Posts Tagged ‘spirituality’

If hope is not wishing, then what is it?

I’m searching for the ontology and the phenomenology of this thing called hope. Faith and trust as well, while I’m at it. These are juicy human necessities of the soul, substances I could use right now, if I could just settle them into my heart.

Religion/faith systems/communities of worship are built around mining and manufacturing these soul commodities for the health and consumption of their members. This is the highest measure of their value. But if we take the religion out of it, what do we have left?

Ontology is the essence of the thing at the level of being. What is the essence of hope? Is it an attitude? A substance? A spirit? An illusion?

Phenomenology is the experience of something. What does hope feel like? What is it like to ride on a wave of the stuff?

All my references to hope are biblical ones. Not a bad place to start:

But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. Romans 8:24&25

Hope concerns the future, certainly. But the thing we hope for in the future is not itself hope. Hope is the juice we have inside us while we look forward to the thing – that’s what I’m wondering about.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. I Corinthians 13:13.

Hope is something on the order of faith and love. Love I think I get better than the other two. Hope is a little harder to get my arms around. The Apostle Paul seems to state that hope is more than just a wish that things in the future will turn out well. It’s something that remains. Something that fuels the universe, something that enables life maybe.

In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope… I Peter 1:3

This is the most mysterious phrase of all – new birth into a living hope. Living hope. What could that mean?

Here are some things I suspect:

1. Hope, at its essence, can be more than a wish for something good.

2. Hope is imbued with a kind of spiritual substance – power maybe?

3. Hope is alive somehow, and feeds the soul.

We often get confused about what to put our hope in. That’s when hope disappoints.

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Hope Lesson 2: There’s a difference between hope and magical thinking.

I just don’t know what it is. I have a pink magic wand at the office. I bring it out when I need to make a point. It flashes and lights up, and it’s fun to swing around, but so far it’s not produced a single desired outcome. Magical thinking – wishing – is easy to spot. Hope is a little more subtle.

If wishes were horses then beggars would ride.

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Hi, it’s me, reporting to you live from my self-imposed religious exile, on Easter Sunday morning, 2008. The mood here is a bit melancholy, I’m afraid. Feeling adrift and homeless casts a sad shadow on the hope and celebration of Easter, I admit. On the other hand I have to say I truly wouldn’t have it any other way today. Maybe next year I’ll be settled enough to celebrate, but this year, again, I must abstain from the festivities.

I considered, briefly, the possibility of attending an Episcopal or Anglican service today, knowing I would thoroughly enjoy the ritual, the pomp, and the beauty of the experience, but no.

A few years ago our family attended a service at Lookout Mountain Community Church on Christmas Eve. Peter Hiett was speaking as “Larry the Sheep Guy.” Larry explained that our idea of proper religion, with our seriousness, our ritual, our stained glass, and our holy observances was just an elaborate game of “hide the stink” – flawed humanity desperately trying to cover the human condition in a show of manufactured holiness. Meanwhile, the true message of Christmas was one of the divine being born in the midst of smelly, messy humanity. A religious switcheroo, an ironic game of hide and seek, God hiding holiness in a pile of stink.


Yup, I got it. Got it so much I was ruined. Considering the history of the Christian religion, I came to the conclusion we missed the point entirely, beginning with the Catholic church and it’s idea of holiness, hierarchy, exclusiveness, ritual, mystery, and fear. The Episcopal church is just a difference in etiology, I’m afraid, plus the doctrinal influence of the Reformation. I love it, but aren’t we still missing the point?

There’s always Protestantism, Evangelicalism, and the Charismatic, of course. Been there, done that. Can’t do it any more. So here I am, feeling just a little sorry for myself, in the deconstructed rubble of my own religious landscape.

Doubly ironic is the sense I have of being asked, by what I can only describe as God, to exercise, well, faith. A hopeful assurance that I am held by divine love, that I am on a journey not alone, that I am invited to participate in a joyful stream of spiritual life and goodness, if I could just stick my neck out a little and believe. Take a risk or two.

Imagine my chagrin when I realized that what I had considered faith wasn’t really faith at all, but the security that came from assenting to a coherent theology. Who knew I could feel the tug of the divine outside the confines of ideology, in the midst of my messy deconstruction. How divinely ironic – or heretical – depending on your perspective.

That’s how the Easter egg rolls this year.

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