I don’t offer any profound thoughts here, just something I’ve been thinking about this morning. I’ve been thinking about how our present experience doesn’t always (or even often) match up with the portrayal of the world in the Gospel. Seeing the world that way takes some serious, even constant, re-envisioning. It’s an adventure of human imagination – not in the sense of being make-believe, but as a thoughtful and creative engagement of mind, faith, and hands-on experience (and sometimes doubt). It’s shot through with a crazy thing called “hope.”
Did anyone else see Lady in the Water this summer? I know – the critics really tore it up, and it’s not necessarily the best source of thrill and suspense. The plot line is a little obvious, too. However, my friend Erin and I found some of the ideas and themes in the story very engaging. Shyalaman brings up questions of human giftedness and role on the cosmic scene in spite of our inability to grasp what our gifts are and how to use them in conjunction with the gifts of others for the sake of the life of the world. But that’s another post for another time! Today I’m more interested in the idea of hope – a theme that emerges throughout the movie.
Strangely, it is in the midst of great danger and seemingly imminent peril that the light of hope shines most brightly. Perhaps it appears so bright because of its gloomy surroundings, like a diamond set against a piece of black velvet. At the moment when any chance of survival seems lost, the main characters of the film carry out their crazy scheme for salvation, clinging to that faint glimmer of hope like a lifeline. Maybe you could argue that they act more out of desperation than out of a sense of hope. Perhaps, but even an act of desperation implies a refusal to give in to fatalistic despair. That sounds a tiny bit hopeful to me.
Sometimes Christians (myself included) talk about hope as if it’s some kind of future-tense, warm and fuzzy ideal. I’m not denying that hope is implicitly future-oriented, but I am questioning the value of a hope that leaves us content to sit smugly, preferring to dream of better days to come when the present reality is less than desirable. Hope is not simply a balm for the weary human soul, a draft of contentment and peace when our souls thirst for security. Marx's maxim that religion is the "opium of the masses" is naive. Hope has a fiery side, too. Hope – the daring impulse to dream that the world as it is can be different – kindles in us the courage to act boldly even when everything looks bleak and burnt-out. Hope beckons us to be an active part in the great story of God’s love for the world. The quintessence of faith, hope is the ability to look at the messy ambiguity of our world, to see instead new possibilities for its future and to act accordingly in the present.
But I can’t leave this out: speaking from my own convictions, I don’t think there’s much hope for us if God isn’t a part of this. The root of active hope is the belief that God is at work in this world in ways beyond our comprehension and perception and that we can participate in that work despite our limitations and propensity to screw things up. It seems that God prefers it that way, as inexplicable as that is! (Risky partnership over efficiency?! God doesn’t work according to American values – how refreshing is that?! Wow! This is GOOD NEWS for us! But I digress...) As Paul is fond of pointing in Ephesians, when God breaks into the world, mysterious things happen among us and through us. And, crazy as it may seem, that gives me bold, active hope for the present and future of the world.
(When I started this post, I was only going to write a few sentences. Grad school makes me wordy! ... Or maybe it's the caffeine.)