What is hope?

The Poetry of Hope

Famous poems

Definition: We hear the word all the time but rarely pin down, “What exactly is hope?”

St. John of the Cross wrote it best: hope is a sense things can get better “although it is the night”

This eternal fountain hides and splashes
within this living bread that is life to us
although it is the night.
Hear it calling out to every creature.
And they drink these waters, although it is dark here
because it is the night.
-St. John of the Cross as translated by Seamus Heaney in Station Island XI

Superficial hope examples include the purchases of consumer goods (e.g. ‘If you buy X you will feel great!’), numbing agents (‘Play this addictive game; drink Y or eat X and life will be good.’), false promises of intimacy (‘If you had the right person in your life then life would be great so click here…’), spiritual egotism (‘If you breathe correctly or pray correctly you will get everything you want.’), or empty intellectual promises (“If you just get another degree or read the right books then life will be all right.”) All of these promises have some kernel of truth in them, but overall are very thin things to base one’s hope on.

We must be careful how we define hope. There are many counterfeits. We do not need flimsy optimism or a superficial hope that promises a lot and delivers little. We want the real thing: 

  • Hope of restoration to the circle of relationships we call home.
  • Hope to be well in body, mind and spirit.
  • Hope to laugh easily under a kind sun.
  • Hope to live with a clear and free heart.

This rich hope­­–which can and does deliver on its promises–allows us to examine “What is going on?” with clear eyes. It sees that loved ones can be hurt and even die in combat or training. It sees that the soldier-parent will leave and leave and leave and some never return. This is all very true.

With clear eyes we can see that the moment of life we are in is still life. What do we want to do with it?

We are not our worst days or injuries. Real hope reminds us that there is marvelous delight and joy to be had in life. We need hope that the “new normal” will bring gifts with it. And that there may one day be a place of reconnection and restoration, even if we have to build it ourselves.

For a deeper look at the intersections of “Why Bother?” “Suffering” and “Hope,” I write about these themes in THE SPLENDORFUL PATH: A 500-Year Peace Map In Six Words. It is a short read available at Amazon.

Viewing a turtle found at Rick’s Place, a respite park for military families which helps relieve war stress.

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