I was thinking about hope today while taking an early afternoon drive to the e-check station (where the car's anti-pollution compliance is tested). I was noticing that it was one of those days where I didn't feel naturally hopeful.
It had been cloudy and rainy all morning and the rain was still pelting down, giving the appearance of an all day affair. No contemplative walks with the camera today, I thought. I was feeling a bit tired and nauseated also, most likely a remnant from yesterday's migraine. Nothing much planned today except perhaps catching up on some paperwork.
It occurred to me that feeling hopeful wasn't such an essential part of being hopeful. I could remain a hopeful person and conduct myself accordingly while feeling rather...well, yucky. It wouldn't be as easy as it would be if things were lined up the way I wanted them, but it could be done.
On my way back home, I decided to stop at the post office to buy some stamps. I want to try to be positive, I thought to myself, even though I'm not in a positive sort of mood. An older lady was walking out as I was going in so I held the door for her. She thanked me as though I had just done her a tremendous favor. I addressed the postal clerk in a pleasant manner and she smiled back at me with such genuine kindness that I couldn't help but feel a bit better.
Back on the road, I saw a little patch of blue sky peaking through the heavy mass of clouds. Hmm...
I made a wrong turn or two and ended up taking the "scenic route" home, through the Central neighborhood, long known as poorer part of town and a food desert. Then, I saw a van with fruits and vegetables painted on it, a "mobile market", pulling out of the parking lot of one of the housing projects. Hmm...
Much to my surprise, by the time I reached home, the sun was shining and the wet world I had left when I departed was now sparkling. Paperwork can wait, I thought, picking up my camera.
As I took my usual walking route past a few neighborhood gardens, I noticed a velvety softness in the air that I don't remember ever feeling before. The air felt so alive. The bees and butterflies had come out from hiding and had resumed their work, harvesting and pollinating at every blossom. The rain that had earlier dulled my mood now formed glistening droplets on leaves and flowers. I could almost feel how they were energizing the living things around me. How had I not seen this before?
It now seemed hard not to feel hopeful.
Of course, seldom do the more complex problems of life fall into place so quickly and easily. Financial problems, serious illness, family troubles, depression, anxiety - they don't all get whisked away in a single afternoon.
Yet I write of my experience for a reason.
When my day was still young, the look of the sky and the sensations in my body teamed up to send my brain a message: "it's going to be one of those days". Assumptions about the future started forming in my mind and, quite automatically, my emotional systems fell in behind them. I had to make a very conscious effort to remind myself that, in reality, I didn't know how the day was going to unfold and that I had choices about how I responded to the moment I was in.
Possibility and change seemed like mere mental constructs at that point, ideas that I told myself but not feelings that I could feel. I had to keep marching even though there was no music.
Today, that was not so hard to do. The storms blew over in a matter of hours. However, when the "march" seems to go on and on relentlessly, we often find it hard to stay committed to the idea of a hope that we cannot feel. We may feel that we do not have the strength to keep trying. Our own strength simply is not enough.
Later this evening, as I sat down to say Evening Prayer, these words from Psalm 62 were there to greet me:
"In God alone be at rest, my soul;
for my hope comes from him.
He alone is my rock, my stronghold,
my fortress: I stand firm."
And so there is rest for our embattled souls. There is a stronghold for us when our own strength is depleted. We have a Source of hope when life demands that we march on without any music...
As I wish you rest this evening, I would like to share with you an image and some words that came together for me just a few days ago. How was I to know then that you (and I) might need them tonight?
(If you would like to submit anything related to hope, e.g. comments, art, poetry, etc. this week, please e-mail them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, indicating if you want your name or a pseudonym to be used with it. You may also forward items related to the other 6 holy pauses as we will be spending more time with them in future weeks.)