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What it means to hold on to Hope

The waters may be choppy, even threatening waves to capsize us, but our well-crafted boat will not sink!

Approaching a new year and a new decade(!), our boat surrounded by obstacles, has a guide leading us toward opportunities of renewal and sustained HOPE!

Around the swirling water that our boat is navigating, is the reality of conflict, disunity, name-calling, self-interest, unwillingness to bend, money, favoritism, lack of negotiating skills and the cry for idealism.  As the boat makes progress, the faces are softened, as on the river’s bank is a well-lighted and beautiful Christmas tree.  The top branch supports the figure of an angel. A spotlight sends a glow that says “don’t only look at the flotsam and jetsam.

To catch and embrace the boat of hope is communication.  It’s time to look again at the writing of Jane Mead’s “Passing a Truck Full of Chickens at Night on Highway Eighty.”

What struck me first was their panic.

Some were pulled by the wind from moving

to the ends of the stacked cages,

some had their heads blown through the bars —

and could not get them in again.

Some hung there like that — dead—

their own feathers blowing, clotting

in their faces.  Then

I saw the one that made me slow some—-

I lingered there beside her for five miles.

She had pushed her head through the space

between bars — to get a better view.

She had the look of a dog in the back

of a pickup; that eager look of a dog

who knows she’s being taken along.

She craned her neck.

She looked around, watched me, then

strained to see over the car — strained

to see what happened beyond.

That is the chicken I want to be.

Apply Mead’s writing to yourself.  Hop in the boat with a very positive guide.  We are serious about a river that is running in the direction we pray, for our nation, the world, and ourselves!

In the summer issue of the publication “The American Scholar,” Rebecca McCarthy titles her essay, “The Secret Life of Trees.”  In a salute to the gift, the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center keeps giving to the greater Austin area, I quote:  “Just like humans, trees have their own secret inner lives.  We can see the events each tree endures — drought, disease, infestation — in its growth rings, visible only when we cut down the tree or use an incremental borer to extract a strip from its core.”  That says a lot and it can cover a big part of our lives!

Let us spell out HOPE with these words:  Honor, Opportunity, Possiblity, and Equality. With this bundle of words, the following examples are offered.  For me, the word honor branches out to many areas.  I will admit to shortcomings in areas my life lacks, but I’m still in the boat.

Honor: The relationship of hope to honor may be built on the concept of grace.  Meditate, please, on what is embraced by the novelist and essayist Anne Lamott.  In her book Traveling Mercies, she writes:

Grace: It is the unearned love — the love that goes before, that greets us on the way.  It’s the help you receive when you have no bright ideas left, when you are empty and desperate and have discovered that your best thinking and most charming charm have failed you.  Grace is the light or electricity or juice or breeze that takes you from that isolated place and puts you with others who are as startled and embarrassed and  eventually grateful as you are to be there.”  Grace, graciousness, and its many synonyms, keeps me as fit as I can be.  Not as fit as the Lyle-Pacelli basketball team, but fit.  I bend over and tie my own shoes.  O.K.?  The Sermon on the Mount, full of grace-toned blessings was recited in 1948 on Armistice Day (let us think of honor) by Omar Bradley.  He added:  “We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount.”  Let us affirm it!  The Bible has many notable verses, some that may even haunt us.  Like what?  Matthew 5:8, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”  I’ll keep that in my mind but thinking, “is that a saint who wrote that?”

Dag Hammarskjold, a Swedish statesman, who too early lost his life in a plane crash, wrote out of a spiritual worldview.  Again, my reading brought this quotation to my attention:  “You cannot play with falsehood without forfeiting your right to truth; play with cruelty without losing your sensitivity of mind.  He (she) who wants to keep his garden tidy doesn’t reserve a plot of weeds.”  Many writers and speakers bless us with a sense of honor!

Opportunity: There is a hymn in most collections of religious writings that includes a sentence, “Once to every man (person) and nation —”   It is designed, I assume, to create an atmosphere wherein those singing can think of what is out front, where there is a future that one can create.  We can agree, I assume, that if one is not applying their life to things productive, and making a positive difference in the lives of others, hope is a shallow word.

Listen to how people talk:  “Before I had a job, before my work gave me a reasonable income, I felt like a bum!”  The competing outcome of like investment is to be invested in something that matters.  There you have the birth; the movement away from hopelessness.  Returning to our metaphor of a boat called hope, I invite you to really look at the man guiding the boat.  That hope radiates in what we see; his face shines.  His eyes are bright and focused; his gestures are packed with deliberation, his voice, if he speaks, is attention-giving, without a quiver, and his informed hand is possibly on a paddle.

Think of this in the imagination of a poet, William Stafford (1914-1993), who pictured a scene:  “Up a Side Canyon.”  He writes:  “They have trained the water to talk, and prattles along a stone trough….  Following its instinct, unafraid of rock or of anything but rest.  It never decides, “This is the place.’”  Together the river and boat are headed for the land of hope!

Possibility:  We are born to achieve an honorable life.  Some comments need to be hugged.  Some evaluations are prompters to find what is available to enhance one’s life.  Some time long ago, I was introduced to the thoughts of the writer, John Donne (well worth any person’s investigation!).  He wrote:  “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a part of the continent, a part of the main.”

I am indebted to a book by a minister who taught at Harvard University for many years.  Among other duties, he was the chaplain to many students.  Peter Gomes invited us to acknowledge the possibilities of sometimes unknown persons who utilized rare talents and abilities.  Like a lot of us; we do some amazing things.  Will a plaque in our name be placed on a walnut wooden wall?  But that’s not part of our desire.

We read, “With few exceptions the names of the architects and builders of the great cathedrals of Europe are unknown.  We cannot say who built Chartres or Salisbury or Amiens or Durham, and no one builder ever saw his or her masterpiece completed, for the work of a cathedral is the work of many lives and many lifetimes; and yet somebody did the work and there was a time when they were not.  The builders and masons and carvers are dead and gone!  They never saw the results of what they had begun, yet their vision lives on and we who never saw them are sustained by what they saw and what we see.”  I get the point.  I am honored by myriad accomplishments of others.  Donne’s “continent” is with every person who knows there is hope in that which our lives are given.

Equality: Without at least a little bit of gratitude, our souls are trained to appreciate the many pluses that most of us do have in our lives and is one way we nurture hope.

What emasculates, even turns hate to anger, is playing the victim.  It is not to deny that seemingly the current of the river is going against them.   There are conscientious persons in every locality who identify and bend their labors to address racism, lack of suitable housing, income disparity, the counter-productive habits that mess people up, the destructive immigration policies, the struggles some children have in their education, parental abuse, neglect by some social institutions, the proper rehabilitation of offenders of proper behavior, and the persons who just plain refuse to get help and assistance that a caring society offers.

Maybe I’ve said too much.  You may be thinking, “Marv, you are painting with too wide a brush!”  Let me think about it.  My mind is so fastened on the virtue of HOPE that I wish for hopeful persons and organizations to view the complex environments.  And then, I also say “thank you” for being persons with heart!

The vast number of Minnesota persons have been in the boat called hope with Father Paul E. Nelson.  Before me is his book Living Life to Its Fullest.  Father Nelson, while at St. Augustine Catholic Church in Austin, served Becky, my wife, and me, Holy Communion, the blessed Eucharist, at the holy altar.  “You a Methodist receiving this rite at the hands of a priest?”  Yes, just as the priests at St. John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota, served me while doing theological study on a Master’s Degree.  I lived there, and continue, with ecumenical hope!

In the book in my hand, I read the Bible passage of Isaiah 49, “I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach the ends of the earth.”

Father Nelson wrote a response that I apply to the theme of EQUALITY.  “To be a light for the nations brings us joy, happiness, and peace, to be a light for the nations demands maturity, discipline, commitment, conviction, and a spirit of fairness to God, and to all of creation.

Please find your way to the boat of hope.  We ride together.  It can be a different day!