Written by Shannon McAdam
Canada West Mission Centre Co-President
“Hope is the thing with feathers” says poet Emily Dickinson, to which poet Caitlin Seida replies “Hope Is Not a Bird, Emily, It’s a Sewer Rat” , to which I reply “Caitlin, have you met seagulls?”
Hope, I’ve learned, has a sense of humour.
In October I attended an online retreat for contemplatives where the theme was Hope. We talked about both of the poems above, as well as where the idea of where hope comes from, and what different traditions teach about hope. Advent, we often say, is a season of hope. Hope for what is to come, a sense of anticipation for what is about to happen, the promise of a pregnancy, looking towards the unknown with some optimism.
The most interesting thing I find myself returning to from that retreat is the idea that hope, while a verb, isn’t necessarily something that we have to do or strive for. Instead, hope finds us. Like that bird or sewer rat or sky rat (aka seagull), hope shows up when we least expect it, it appears out of nowhere, and hope’s resilience leaves an impression on our souls. Hope, it turns out, (or Elpis as she was known to the Greeks) was hidden in an unbreakable home just under the rim of Pandora’s jar. (Did you know Pandora opened a jar, not a box?! I only learned this recently, so fascinating!) In Pandora’s story all that was left after the bad things escaped was hope, stuck under the rim, unbreakable, tucked away at the threshold.
Hope, it turns out, will find you when you have come to your limit. Hope will find you when you live on the brink (Monika testifies of this beautifully in a recent Herald article here). Hope will find you when you are inside of a threshold, when you are in a transition.
Hope requires nothing of us except to be open to her when she appears. Hope rarely shows up in the way we want or expect it to. The Hope of the World certainly did not come to Mary, a young, unmarried, woman in an expected way.
So I invite you to be alert and awake to hope this season, for it may catch you unaware. You don’t need to go seeking out hope, you don’t need to clench your jaw and grit your teeth to be hopeful. Instead, trust that hope is there, waiting in the alleyway or inside the brim of that burnt pot of mashed potatoes. Hope will surprise and delight you, just like a baby king did over 2000 years ago.
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