Daring to hope
Well, it’s been a funny old year. Here at Treargel we have had famine and feast. Being closed for some of the time but fully booked for others. We are all being stretched to capacity and finding out what that capacity is.
In recent blogs, I have been looking at hibernation, winter and grief. A place I encouraged you to sit for a while and not rush away from. However, this time I want to look at hope. Not ‘vapid optimism but actual hope’, as Nadia Bolz-Weber puts it. I have been surprised in my reading and podcasts to learn the relationship between being brave and having hope. Especially since my own recent cynicism has often prevented me from being hopeful.
I never really thought that one would have to be courageous to have hope. Naive perhaps, but not brave. But in these dark times, I am realising that actually it takes some determined intentionality to think that things could be better. Just after Christmas I had a day (I know, I’m lucky, many people have this for a lot longer) of feeling ‘what is the point?’ Why should we bother at all? It’s all going tits up. Covid cases are on the rise again, climate change has been put on the back burner and some of us (the white ones) are realising what an unequal world we are very complicit in. Plus, it’s been raining for over 2 weeks! It’s going to take a real effort not to laugh bitterly at 2021 but rather to be brave and look for things to hope for.
Perhaps then, if we do this, we can find the energy and inspiration towards action, to bring understanding, love and justice to others. I want to encourage this hope, as I know many of you help others physically and mentally in the NHS, in people’s faith and spiritual life, and fighting for social justice. But I also know that you are tired and at the end of your tether (and I can’t even invite you here to Treargel for a rest!).
So here are some people I have been listening to, talking about their reasons for hope. People who advocate a little bravery, in the face of great odds, to hope for better.
Fights for people on death row and children being tried as adults. He is the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, Professor of Criminal Justice, and author of Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. He talks on On Being.
“I am persuaded that hopelessness is the enemy of justice; that if we allow ourselves to become hopeless, we become part of the problem. I think you’re either hopeful, or you’re the problem. There’s no neutral place. We’ve been dealing with injustice in so many places for so long. And if you try to dissect why is this still here, it’s because people haven’t had enough hope and confidence to believe that we can do something better. I think hope is our superpower. Hope is the thing that gets you to stand up, when others say, “Sit down.” It’s the thing that gets you to speak, when others say, “Be quiet.”
A fiddle player and singer-songwriter who has struggled all her life with brittle bone disease interviewed on On Being.
“The saying goes, love your neighbor as yourself. But I would challenge you to reverse that, saying for a moment, love yourself as your neighbor. If you saw another person hurting, you'd want them to get the care they need, right? Well, you are that person today. You are absolutely worthy of care. Please reach out when life feels too difficult to bear. Hang on another day so you can eventually find yourself in a better place and come to know your reason to keep living.”
On the Nomad podcast they always ask their guests at the end what they feel hopeful about. Here are some answers.
Singer-songwriter and author, whose career nearly collapsed, husband decided to become an atheist and daughter was born with a heart defect. Lisa finds hope in looking at the flowers. How they don’t toil or sweat, but that everything is in its place and in its time. She also loves that this year there has been an uprising of people through the black lives matter protest. Not the government, but the people rising up to make change.
Justin Marsh and Joy Brooks
Discuss their experiences of surviving Spiritual Abuse in the English charismatic church and how they had to leave churches that they had loved and served for many years.
Justin sees hope in the concept of wonder and awe and amazement in this world, for example, the beauty in nature. In looking for hope, he added that we still need to embrace the dark shadow parts of our life, the things we find shameful, in order to inform the rest of our life. To allow ourselves to feel both the good and the bad. So that we can accept ourselves and not be prone to addiction and other harmful behaviours. (Having worked in the church for many years, he is now a therapist for those struggling with addictions.)
Having had to leave the church she was working in and struggling with not being believed by those she was closest to, Joy found hope this year in looking towards being present and finding interest and joy in everyday life. For example, she noticed the stripes in her cat's fur, even in one single hair! And was amazed by the love of detail, individuality and value in that. In finding hope in the small things she liked planting some flowers and seeing a bee enjoy buzzing around them.
Priest and author, talks about his experience of racism within the English church. In his new book Ghost Ship he argues that ‘The Church is very good at saying all the right things about racial equality... But it is a long way from being a place of black flourishing’.
Azariah had a lot of hard things to say to me, since I have been part of the church he talks about for over 30 years, yet his words were still so full of grace and love. He finds hope ‘lies in the Spirit calling the church to be all that it can be. Calling us all to follow Jesus through the valley of the shadow of death, the empty tomb, and to allow some things to die. We have been called as those on the margins, forced into a place of liminality, but that place of margin is also a threshold, and standing on that threshold is also a new world. Do we dare to step into that new world together? Holding hands with Christ and with each other. Holding hands not as parents and children, [often the relationship assumed between white and black, in the church and elsewhere] but as brothers and sisters together. Where we are all empowered by God's spirit, in God's world.’
Nadia Bolz Weber's podcast - The Confessional
I am also really enjoying this podcast where Nadia hears ‘Ugly confessions from beautiful people… It’s like a car wash for our shame and secrets.’ Like the Olympic Gold medalist who, spiraling into alcoholism when she could no longer play due to injuries, found herself being breathalysed at the side of her car. Or the award-winning journalist who caused one of her sources to be deported due to her mistake. And the church leader who cut off contact with his father when his pastor dad came out as transgender. Each told their stories of shame with passion and sorrow. At the end, I loved how Nadia, not excusing what they had done, spoke beautiful blessings over them which were personal, a bit sweary, and full of hope and love.
Lastly, here is what my 16-year-old daughter thought of the year.
The end of twenty twenty
'I don’t know what to think about this year, it seemed to go by so fast and so slow at the same time. Although the world almost fell apart (and there is still a chance it might) here we are : still fighting. There have been problems I never thought I’d have to face, yet I hope that there will be a calm after this dreadful storm.
This year we saw people come together when we really needed it the most, so much love poured into each restricted gesture: the rainbows in our windows, the claps for the NHS, the artwork created in aid of Black Lives Matter etc. It has certainly been historic. I hope that one day in the future I will be able to tell my tales of the cursed year of 2020 as my grandchildren listen eagerly by my feet.
For we have gone through war, with the virus, our governments and our leaders. But I feel this year has inspired change for the years to come. Thank you 2020 for the purposes you served but now it is time for you to exit the stage for a new year full of new unknown disasters.’
So, in light of this, I confess that I haven’t given you many reasons for hope, who knows what this year will bring, but to encourage you to be brave and look for those reasons.
In 2021, may you be the best that you can be, breathing in life, enjoying the small things and finding the courage to reach out your hands to those different from you.
Where are you finding hope this year?
We are currently closed, but will be back open as soon as we and any others leave Tier 3.
Meanwhile, get in touch and tell us where you are finding hope this year, in the comments below, by email, facebook or phone. We would love to hear from you. Or join us for our Monday Meditation or go on the Reflective Walk. The latter has been beautifully recorded by my good friend Val so you can listen to it as you walk. Or listen to the gentle waves on our beach on our website.