Prompted by an e-mail exchange with a Facebook friend of mine, I’ve been thinking a lot about hope during this past week.
As I’ve been sitting in the transition from the end time readings during the last few days of the liturgical year just ended to the Isaiah readings we hear in these days of Advent, I realize anew (and ever more deeply) that I both have hope and I am part of realizing that which I have hope for. And I jotted down in my journal the other morning three related points regarding the relationship between those two. First that hope without working on behalf of its fulfillment is mere wishful thinking. Second, that as hope grows, there is more energy to play my part in its realization. And finally, that the more I play my part, the more my hope grows and the more I help others have hope.
Although I drafted my contribution to the University of St. Thomas Advent and Christmas Meditations two weeks ago, when I re-read it yesterday morning (when it was published), I realized it fit perfectly with my current reflections on hope. Let me share here both my contribution and a comment I received from one of my colleagues.
Today’s first Mass reading includes one of my favorite passages in the Book of Isaiah – Isaiah’s compelling vision that
“the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid. The calf and the young lion shall browse together…. The cow and the bear shall be neighbors…. The baby shall play by the cobra’s den, and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair.”
A wolf the guest of a lamb? Calves browsing with lions? A baby playing in a cobra’s den? Crazy stuff! Impossible, our rational mind insists.
Yet, if I can’t imagine the “Peaceable Kingdom,” it will never exist. The first step toward a better future is imagining it, believing that that the unthinkable is attainable. Who knows what would be possible if we were able to imagine the future described by Isaiah! Palestinians as guests of Israelis. Boko Haram and Christians in Nigeria sharing a meal. Warring ethnic groups in the Sudan living as neighbors.
It is far simpler to dismiss Isaiah’s vision as impossible than to try to make it a reality. But as Pope Francis wrote in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, our challenge is precisely “to discern how wine can come from water and how wheat can grow in the midst of weeds” (neither of which is any less outlandish than a lion hanging out with a lamb or a child playing in a cobra’s den.)
So reflect on Isaiah’s vision for the world. And then recognize that in each moment, you have the ability to be a force for unity or a force for discord. To promote peace or to act against peace. To stir love or hatred. And ask yourself, what can I do to further the beautiful vision of Isaiah?
In response, my friend and colleague Mariana shared with me the following Mayan Proverb:
El que cree crea;
El que crea hace;
El que hace se transforma a sí mismo y a la sociedad en la que vive.
The one that believes creates;
The one that creates acts;
The one that acts transforms him or herself and the society in which he or she lives.
So have hope. And be part of the realization of that hope. Maybe it is by performing some random acts of kindness this Advent. Maybe it is by sharing your hope in song (as my friend who prompted my reflections on hope does). It could be in a million different ways. But don’t just have hope. Work on behalf of hope. Be hope.