By Nan Smith
November 19, 2020
Scripture: Romans 15: 13
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing,
so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
It was my first year, in my first appointment, when I visited a married couple: retired farmers still living on their farmstead. The day was one of those arctic blasts from Canada and the winds were bitterly cold with temperatures well below zero.
So, there we were, sipping tea at their large dining room table, conversing, and watching the birds come to feed on the seed thrown out on their deck. Cardinals, nuthatches, chickadees, finches, and an assortment of woodpeckers. It was quite the array.
While we were chatting, a black-capped chickadee suddenly hit the patio window. Immediately my naturalist self (prior to ministry I was an interpretative naturalist for Black Hawk and then Story County Conservation) went into automatic pilot. Before I had even thought through the ramifications, I was outside, picking up that stunned chickadee. I knew with such cold temperatures, that if it was left outside it would probably freeze to death before it revived. Cupped carefully in my hands, I carried it back inside.
That’s when my pastor common sense kicked in and I thought what have I done? I have just brought a live bird into their beautiful home.
Shocked faces stared back at me, so I said “it’s only stunned, it will revive in the warmth.” Their eyes widened as they contemplated a black-capped chickadee revived and flying throughout their home. Quickly, I asked for a paper sack. They watched, as I gently placed the bird into the bottom of the sack and folded the top of the sack down tightly.
We all took our seats again and just like that we resumed our conversation, as if nothing out of the ordinary had just happened. Twenty minutes later I heard a fluttering in the bag. Carefully, I took the bag outside, sat it on the deck, unfolded the top, and suddenly a blur of feathers burst out. The chickadee landed on the deck railing and eyed me — calling repeatedly, scolding me, not at all grateful for what I had done; however, it was clear that the bird was none the worse for its glass door encounter.
As I think back on that incident, I know it was a glimmer of hope that caused me to dash outside and scoop up that bird and bring it inside. It was hope that made me feel that this simple action would allow the bird to live. Folk singer Carrie Newcomer sings in the song A Whole Lot of Hope, “You’ve got a whole lot of hope, you’ve been keeping in your pocket safe from harm.”
A pocket full of hope — I can see big pockets, small pockets, really small pockets — some buttoned shut, some bursting forth, but all filled with slivers of hope. As people of faith, holding tightly to the promises given to us by God, hopefully, we can always find a glimmer of light, of hope, in the darkest times of our lives. Something we can cling to, even when it might not make sense to do that. It is hope that allows one to endure in the face of struggle and challenge. It is hope that visions and dreams a way forward, when it is hard to imagine a new future.
For the Israelites, living in exile, I do wonder what was the hope they carried in their hearts? Was it the love they held for each other? Was it their faith and traditions? Their identity of being God’s chosen people? Their ability to adjust to change? Their conversations in community? Was it their imagination that allowed them to envision a new way of being?
I consider the disciples, following the crucifixion of Jesus. Scripture tells us they were grieving, afraid for their lives – lost, but together. In their darkness, they must have carried some hope to be held up against what they had just witnessed on that bleak Friday. Otherwise, surely hopelessness would have caused them to leave Jerusalem in despair and disillusionment. But that wasn’t the case. Even in such pain, the disciples still came together, supported each other, hoped together, and in the end encountered a risen Jesus.
I wonder, being the church in the challenges of today, what are the pockets of hope to which our faith communities are holding tight?
Anymore, there is a heaviness that is always hanging in the air; it fills the pauses between our words; it’s heard in the sighs that come; and it keeps us awake at night. These are uncertain times – is it any wonder that we are searching for that hope which will make it bearable? We are looking for ways to cope, both as individuals and as the church.
These days, I often find myself with my hands in my jacket pockets– warming my hands when the bite of winter hangs in the air. It is a comforting experience, a reassuring action. It helps me to feel grounded and reminds me of the hope I carry.
Whatever your pockets of hope are, hang onto them– bring those glimmers forth and savor them when the world feels out of control. Keep them close and lean into them. These are challenging times, but I have a pocketful of hope to get me through.