Hope is the thing with feathers/that perches in the soul – / And sings the tune without the words/ and never stops – at all.
Mother Anne quoted Shakespeare on Sunday but I was thinking of Emily Dickinson and this first stanza from a poem many of us probably read in high school. Context is everything, as Anne said, but I always found Dickinson’s language to be a wonderful image for hope: A bird perched in our soul, singing a song just for us, pushing us along through good times and bad, and asking nothing in return.
Of course, I never knew early Christians had a different definition of the word hope than we define it today. Anne said the Christians of John’s time would have understood hope to mean “the present moment does not fully define us.” Who we are now, is not necessarily who we will be when God comes again. I think I like that definition of hope better than our current one (a feeling of expectation and desire for something to happen). Our hope is still pretty powerful and certainly necessary in our difficult times: hope for peace, for change, for enlightenment, for understanding, for compassion. But, we can also hope the Nationals win the pennant, our Powerball number comes up, we drop 10 pounds before swim season, or whatever else is high on our list at any time.
This kind of hope can, at times, be grounded more in desire, than in love. With the Johannine definition, however, it seems almost impossible to think about hope without love. “What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.” (1 John 3:2) God is love. We have hope in him. Hope and love – inextricably tied together.
The present moment doesn’t fully define us. I find the idea equal parts comforting and terrifying. The comforting: My worst day doesn’t have to define me. The petty nonsense that eats up so much time and energy doesn’t have to be who I am when I stand before God. But, on the scary side: Who might I be if I stepped out in love? What does it take to put the small but insistent things aside and follow the path of Jesus? How do I grow in “what is right, is righteous, just as he is righteous?”
I suspect I know the answers. The questions actually give some good hints (step out in love, follow Jesus) But they are not easy to do. It is hard to take the road less traveled, to borrow from another famous poem. Society has a strong pull, but so do our daily routines. And frankly, the busyness of everyday life can wear down even the best intentions.
Here again though, we are reminded of the good news. We don’t have to do it alone. God will walk with us, and he won’t even judge us along the way. He loves us as we are right now. So if we decide to step out in hope and love, know that God walks with us. If it helps to see a bird perched in your soul, well, maybe that’s okay too.
- Can you have hope without love?
- What do you think of the Johannine concept that “the present moment doesn’t fully define us?”
- What makes it hard to walk the path of righteousness?