Corin Pilling explores the nature of hope and discovers it is most powerful and life-giving when it is collectively nurtured and shared. When we come together as friends and communities to articulate things – however small – that inspire and encourage hope, we will find it is a force to be reckoned with.
Following Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration, I stumbled upon this quote from Dorothy Day, radical activist and founder of the Catholic Worker Movement. Her autobiography, “The Long Loneliness” is a powerful testament to a legacy of combining acts of mercy whilst challenging unjust systems. It sets an inspiring blueprint for a life rooted in Jesus and justice.
Its radical call to action challenges my own fatalism. As the tectonic plates of the world shift and jar, it’s easy to feel hemmed in by anonymous forces. Yet, in the eyes of someone exhausted and burdened, these words could be potentially toxic. ‘More work to do?’ Where might the promise of relief be to all who do feel hopeless; who are burdened with a heavy yoke?
So much seems required of us, yet hope may feel in short supply. As I pondered the quote, I found like many quotable phrases, context was key. Let’s look at it again:
‘People say, what is the sense of our small effort? They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time. A pebble cast into a pond causes ripples that spread in all directions. Each one of our thoughts, words and deeds is like that. No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do.’
It became evident that the hope-filled actions mentioned are deeply collective. This rings true; experience tells me that I find it hard to sustain hope alone. Only as we see our contribution as part of that greater story, will it start to fit. If that perspective is lost, or we find ourselves outside of a community without that shared story, we will be digging a dry well.
It seems there are exceptional times where hope needs to be intentional; it needs to be nurtured, grown and spoken of – together. How can our practices and our life together create spaces which actively foster hope? It may require an act of the imagination, but it is fundamental for our own thriving, and that of our communities. Now, more than at any time we need a narrative which grounds us and roots us in true hope.
All of this might be self–evident. Yet if we follow this line of thinking, perhaps there’s a further invitation. Frederick Buechner states, “If preachers choose to preach about hope, let them preach on what they themselves hope for.” This is surely the antidote to “pie in the sky when you die” thinking; a counter to the vague notion of it all working out alright in the end. It’s a challenge to get more specific about the nature of our hope so it can provide us with the fuel to live as God intended, rather than in fear.
To stand before each other stating ‘This is my hope and why’ places us all on the line. Can we find ways, as communities, to declare our collective hope together? Let us start conversations that explore the question, ‘What does hope look like in this place right now? ’ The more local, personal and specific this hope can get, for me, the better. To do this, take inspiration from the hopeful specificity of the incarnation; in the dirt, there and then, in first century Palestine, in an occupied nation. I would suggest our ‘occupied nation’ at this time might be a world stage that so often tells a story that is counter-gospel. At this point, hope becomes a true act of resistance, rooted in Christ, both collective and specific.