Lay Anglicana, the unofficial voice of the laity throughout the Anglican Communion.
This is the place to share news and views from the pews.

Get involved ...

Epiphany 2: Hope

15 January 2006
1 Samuel 3: 1-10; John 1: 43-51; Psalm 139: 1-9 O Lord, you have tested me

Hope doesn't get a very good press, if you scan anthologies of poetry or quotations as I have been doing. While the Bible of course stresses the hope that our Christian faith brings us, the secular view seems to be that hopes often do not materialise and then all that is left is despair. Lord Byron warned in 'Growing Old':

What are the hopes of Man? Old Egypt's King Cheops erected the first Pyramid
And largest, thinking it was just the thing to keep his memory whole and mummy hid;
But somebody or other rummaging burglariously broke his coffin's lid.
Let not a monument give you or me hopes, since not a pinch of dust remains of Cheops.

Even C S Lewis thought a Pollyanna-like optimism was dangerous:

Imagine a set of people all living in the same building. Half of them think it is a hotel, the other half think it is a prison. Those who think it a hotel might regard it as quite intolerable, and those who thought it was a prison might decide that it was really surprisingly comfortable. So that what seems the ugly doctrine is one that comforts and strengthens you in the end. The people who try to hold an optimistic view of this world would become pessimists: the people who hold a pretty stern view of it become optimistic.
'Answers to questions of Christianity'

One approach is to whistle in the dark like Queen Victoria, who famously said:

Please understand there is no pessimism in this house and we are not interested in the possibilities of defeat. They do not exist.

Or you can hope, like Micawber, that something will turn up:

A man sentenced to death obtained a reprieve by assuring the king that he would teach his majesty's horse to fly within the year-on condition that if he didn't succeed, he would be put to death at the end of the year. 'Within a year,' the man explained later, 'the king may die, or I may die, or the horse may die. And, in a year, who knows? Maybe the horse will learn to fly.'
Bernard Baruch

Real hope, rather than mere optimism, is forged in the fire; it needs courage above all:
Hope means hoping when things are hopeless, or it is no virtue at all...As long as matters are really hopeful, hope is mere flattery or platitude; it is only when everything is hopeless that hope begins to be a strength.

G K Chesterton

And, with hope, our spirits can soar, as Shakespeare knew:
True hope is swift, and flies with swallow's wings:
Kings it makes gods, and meaner creatures kings. Richard III Act 5 Scene 2

I think the problem may lie in what you are hoping for. Snoopy from the Peanuts cartoon sums it up:
Yesterday I was a dog. Today I'm a dog. Tomorrow I'll probably still be a dog. Sigh! There's so little hope for advancement.
Charles M. Schulz

More modest hopes are more likely to be fulfilled:
Do as well as you can today, and perhaps tomorrow you may be able to do better. Isaac Newton

Of course you can always try and get by without hope altogether:

I never saw a man who looked with such a wistful eye
Upon that little tent of blue which prisoners call the sky,
And at every wandering cloud that trailed its raveled fleeces by.
He did not wring his hands, as do those witless men who dare
To rear the changeling Hope in the cave of black Despair.
He only looked upon the sun and drank the morning air.

'Ballad of Reading Gaol' by Oscar Wilde

And yet, and Pope reminded us: Hope springs eternal in the human breast.

And the last words of Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot were:
In spite of myself, I go on hoping. I hope with all my heart that there will be painting in heaven.

Emily Dickinson found it a constant companion, hard to escape - a counsel, surely of weary despair:

Hope is a thing with feathers that perches in the soul.
And sings the tune without the words and never stops at all.

Bishop Andrewes likens hope to an anchor, a helmet and - my favourite - a cork. The idea that we need fear to keep us grounded and hope to keep us afloat is irresistible:

The use of hope is twofold: that we rest in hope in this life; that we rest not here, but look for a better. As our life is a sea, hope is compared to an anchor whereby we hold fast; as it is a warfare, our hope is a helmet to save our heads from hurt. As the body liveth spirando, so the soul sperando…[St] Basil compareth the gospel to a net, and Fear to be the lead which maketh it sink and keepeth it steady, and Hope the cork which keepeth always above; without the lead of Fear it would be carried hither and thither, and without the cork of Hope it would sink down.
Lancelot Andrewes

Hope and despair really are the opposite sides of the same coin, like yin and yang. And just as the yin symbol contains within it the dot of yang, and yang the dot of yin, so hope and despair contain within themselves the seed of their opposite, ready to sprout:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.
Charles Dickens,
opening sentence of 'A Tale of Two Cities'

No great undertaking was ever successful without hope:
Great revolutions aren't started by people who are utterly down and out, without hope and vision. They take place when people begin to live a little better - and when they see how much yet remains to be achieved.
Hubert H. Humphrey

As Alexander the Great was setting out on his conquest of Asia, he inquired into the finances of his followers. To ensure that they would not be troubled over the welfare of their dependents during their absence, he distributed crown estates and revenues among them. When he had thus disposed of nearly all the royal resources, his friend General Perdiccas asked Alexander what he had reserved for himself. "Hope," answered the king. "In that case," said Perdiccas, "we who share in your labours will also take part in your hopes." He then refused the estate allotted to him, and several other of the king's friends did the same.

My favourite inspirational poem begins with dashed expectations, but in fact the poem as a whole is an energising hymn to hope:

Say not the struggle naught availeth, the labour and the wounds are vain,
The enemy faints not, nor faileth, and as things have been they remain.
If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars; it may be, in yon smoke conceal'd,
Your comrades chase e'en now the fliers, and, but for you, possess the field.
For while the tired waves, vainly breaking, seem here no painful inch to gain,
Far back, through creeks and inlets making, comes silent, flooding in, the main.
And not by eastern windows only, when daylight comes, comes in the light;
In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly! But westward, look, the land is bright!

Arthur Hugh Clough

I know the world is filled with troubles and many injustices. But reality is as beautiful as it is ugly. I think it is just as important to sing about beautiful mornings as it is to talk about slums. I just couldn't write anything without hope in it.
Oscar Hammerstein II

Hope is like the sun, which, as we journey toward it, casts the shadow of our burden behind us.
Samuel Smiles

Let us end by standing and saying together the words of Dame Julian of Norwich:
And all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

Latest Blog Posts

O Rex Gentium: the Sixth Advent Antiphon – 22 December

Latin: O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum,lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum:veni, et salva hominem,quem de limo formasti. English: O King of the Gentiles and their desired One, the Cornerstone...

Read Post
No Comments | Reply
Anglicanism and Technology: “For things to remain the same, everything must change” – Iain Little

I fear for Anglicanism, or at least the liberal, discerning version that we practice in our rainy corner of Northern Europe. Above all I fear for its relevance. More Britons play chess each week than go...

Read Post
2 Comments | Reply
‘That Was The Church That Was’: Review by Richard Ashby

For those not old enough to remember, ‘That Was the Week That Was’ was a satirical television programme of the 1960s, starring David Frost, Millicent Martin, Bernard Levin and Willie Rushton...

Read Post
5 Comments | Reply

Connect with me on Google+

We rely on donations to keep this website running.