Learning to hope

Lynne Smith, OSB Living in Community Leave a Comment

Christmas-artIn the sisters’ chapter meeting last week we began reading an article entitled “Advent Currents,” by Sr. Bede Luetkemeyer, OSB, from a 2004 issue of the magazine Spirit and Life. In the article Sr. Bede reflects on the advent themes of hope, patience and desire. In the section on hope, she quotes Lutheran theologian Jürgen Moltmann.

“True hope—which means the hope that endures and sustains us—is based on God’s call and command. We are called to hope. It is a command: a command to resist death. It is a call: the call to divine life. Enduring hope is not something innate, something we possess from birth. Nor do we acquire it from experience. We have to learn it. We learn to hope if we obey the call. We learn to hope in the experiences that life brings us. We come to know its truth if we are forced to stand our ground against despair. We come to know its power when we realize that it keeps us alive in the midst of death.  –(Experiences of God).

I was struck by the line: “We learn to hope in the experiences that life brings us.” I’ve been thinking about the experiences in my life that have taught me hope, when have I obeyed the call and stood my ground against despair.

The first event occurred when I felt called to go to seminary in my mid-20s. I applied to a couple of seminaries and was accepted; however, I didn’t have the money to go to school. I planned to work part-time while studying, but that wouldn’t cover everything. One of the seminaries had a full-tuition scholarship. I applied for it and was told I was third in line for the two scholarships they offered. Trying to be faithful to the call, I chose to attend that seminary. A few months before the school year began, I got the word that one of the scholarship recipients decided not to enroll. So I received a scholarship for the first year. I realize this experience is more one of hope in the common way we use the term—hoping for something that we have power to work out ourselves.

The hope of which Moltmann writes is of another order. This hope is in something beyond our power. I have had an experience that taught me this type of hope as well. In my early 30s I suffered a bout of depression. Depression can rob a person of hope. I was fortunate to have people around me that held out hope for me. One person told me: “I know you can’t believe this right now, but I want you to know that you can get through this. I’ll hold that for you until you can hold it for yourself.” By the grace of God, and the help of others, I did get through it. That experience taught me that with help I can “stand my ground against despair.” When I am tempted to despair when a situation seems hopeless, I remember this experience. I have to learn again and again to hope.

It is encouraging to know that we can learn to hope. It is easy to despair and give up hope today when we look at the world and national situation. I continually remind myself that what I hear or read in the news is not the full story. People of good will are at work in the world. I can be one of those people. God is at work in the world. As long as that is true, there is hope wherever there are people who are obeying the call to love, forgive and stand firm for justice. That is what we see in the story of the incarnation. Mary was obedient in consenting to Jesus’ birth. She was obedient too in the face of despair standing at the foot of the cross. This Advent and in the coming year let us pray to be willing and obedient to God’s call that we may know the power of hope.

How have you learned hope?

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