Friday, November 9, 2012

Between Skepticism and Hope

Today, as I am writing this newsletter, the American election is being held, and I haven’t got a clue as to who may win. By the time you read it, the hubbub will have died down, the winners will have had a great victory party and the losers will have made a speech about unity in the country. And then life moves on.

It is rather amazing that we (I’m speaking as an American now) spend so much money and so much effort on something which seems to be so much larger than anything else on our horizon. Surely we should have gained a better sense of perspective by now. Why is it that “hope springs eternal” in so many situations in our lives? Everyone gets very excited about the new possibilities brought to life by a new candidate, only to find out later that the expectations outreached the realities. One election is hardly over before the next is being planned, and the whole cycle repeats itself.

It’s a human characteristic to live somewhere between skepticism and hope, whether the focus is on elections, or on human relationships, or on theology. We expect the best, and if the best does not happen, we just have to wait a bit longer. One saint who supported this notion was Julian of Norwich, who lived 600 years ago and heard in a vision from God: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” She was either blind to reality or profoundly touched by reality. I vote for the latter.

Elections are opportunities to exercise our capacity for hope, a time to take a step in a direction that we know to be good, even if we find out later that we didn’t get as far as we had thought. That’s the nature of hope, real hope, a faith-backed hope. It is the kind of hope that a loving parent has for his/her child, no matter the circumstances. It is hope that sustains one’s vision of life, that shapes one’s faith in life.

Such hope may also be brought to bear on our relationship with God. In fact, it must be if that relationship is to be real. The faith that God hopes in us as much as we hope in God is what gives faith vitality. Believing that God places trust in us is as much a motivation to do good as is the awareness that we have hope in God. Think of a parent urging a small child to walk across the grass. That’s hope in action on the part of both parties, one teetering on the edge of catastrophe and the other participating with anxious, but encouraging, concern. Both have their arms out, just beyond reach, and each draws on the other as their source of hope, a relationship of love. Then walking can happen.

I heard Timothy Radcliffe, O.P., once say in a lecture: “You know, ongoing progress is not a biblical concept.” Real life is never predictable and often difficult, from biblical times to the present. But just because life is not perfect doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t work towards improving it. We move from hope to hope, teetering along and trusting in the loving relationships that sustain us, especially those relationships that we may not fully know about.

So perhaps voting is not such a bad thing after all, because hope is always a good thing before all.