Abiding in Hope: August 24, 2023

Abiding in Hope: August 24, 2023

August 25, 2023

Abiding in Hope

By: Rev. Lee Roorda Schott

A year ago, I wrote a reflection on hope. It was the announcement of our turn—in this weekly series of posts—from exile to hope. We had been “Abiding in Exile” through the pandemic. With the waning of that experience, a turn toward hope seemed appropriate. 
Appropriate, but not entirely easy. I mentioned in that post some ways I was finding hope complicated. It’s this thing on the other side of suffering, and endurance, and character,[1] and who wants that? It’s this thing with feathers, which perches in our soul, singing, and not stopping,[2] which feels unfinished, and ungraspable. Which reflection led me, and our writing team, to say, yes, it’s time to shift in the direction of hope.
We said then that in some months we’d eventually drop the term “exile” altogether and see if we can simply abide in hope. I won’t claim that we’ve arrived there, at Hope. But it’s time to formalize that shift. Say it to yourself: We’re abiding in hope now. How does that feel?
I think I’m closer to hope today, if not all the way there. I feel like I’m noticing it more. That thing with feathers has circled and sometimes landed nearby, cawing until I notice it. And I’m grateful.
Like, have you noticed the surprise lilies that have just bloomed? They come from seemingly nowhere, with a profusion of pink blossoms bobbing atop green stalks. I see something of hope in their short-lived, audacious beauty. 
And then there’s the Barbie movie.[3] I found hope there. A different kind of “surprise lily,” with more pink than all the surprise lilies in my neighborhood!
Or, in a more minor key, there was our local remembrance of the 78th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, on August 6 and 9, respectively, in 1945. The event title included “The Horror & The Hope,” as did the words of several speakers, including Bishop Kennetha J. Bigham-Tsai of the Iowa United Methodist Church. The event included horror for all the reasons many of us know from history, and saw dramatized in the movie Oppenheimer, recently released in theatres everywhere. Horror at, in our bishop’s words, this bombing, “something out of this world,” “an atrocity masquerading as peace.” 
But horror was tempered with hope. Another speaker, Mary Ann Koch, was charged with offering some words of hope, and she began with trees in Hiroshima that survived the bombing. Some 170 trees survived, of varieties like gingko that could regenerate from roots deep underground, even though their exposed trunk and branches were incinerated in the heat—3,000 to 4,000 degrees Celsius[4]—generated by the explosion.[5]Koch spoke movingly of these surviving trees as a sign of resilience, and thus a source of hope. 
She didn’t stop there, though. She went on to say, “It’s not just the trees that were resilient. We see resilience in the human beings who came through this experience.” What an important message. Resilience isn’t just out there. It’s in here. We know something—each of us—of what it means to stare into hurt and loss, to be overwhelmed by flood waters or forest fires or betrayal or trauma, to walk into a future upended by changes we didn’t see coming and wouldn’t have agreed to. Yet we’re still standing, most of us. Something of us that was deepest underground has wriggled into new life and dared to stretch out fresh growth, with no guarantees that the ecosystem could sustain us. And yet here we are. 
The hope born of human and ecological resilience is inspiring and beautiful. Yet our hope as persons of faith goes beyond resilience. I don’t think we always remember that. We read the news, we think of atomic bombs, we worry about climate change and so much more, and it’s easy to forget that God has spoken a deeper word of hope—an ancient and yet future word—that still stands today.
I’ve been reading Walter Brueggemann on this subject. He’s a theologian and Old Testament scholar who tirelessly reminds us that when we hope, we stand rooted in old, deep Biblical grounding.
The hope articulated in ancient Israel is not a vague optimism or a generic good idea about the future but a precise and concrete confidence in and expectation for the future that is rooted explicitly in YHWH’s promises to Israel. …YHWH[6] has sworn to effect futures of well-being that are beyond the present condition of the world and that cannot, in any credible way, be extrapolated from the present.[7]
In other words, God repeatedly opens God’s people to possibilities that couldn’t possibly be reached from where they stand. This enables God’s people “to hope against all data and to believe that the hopelessness of the data never rules out a different possibility.[8] Brueggemann is right; that is some hope.
I want to say much more about all this, but maybe this is enough for today, as we make this turn more formally toward hope. For today, I want us to try on that call to hope in “futures of well-being” that God wants for us, has promised us, is yet bringing
And let’s let Brueggemann have the final word, a prayer that connects the various tendrils of this reflection. Notice how he invites us to move into God’s “land of goodness”—another way of saying, I think, abiding in hope
We are strange mixtures of loss and hope.
As we are able, we submit our losses to you.
            We know about sickness and dying,
                        about death and mortality,
                        about failure and disappointment.
            And now for a moment we do our
                        failing and our dying in your presence,
                        you who attend to us in loss.
As we are able, we submit our hopes to you.
We know about self-focused fantasy
                        and notions of control.
            But we also know that our futures
                        are out beyond us,
                                    held in your good hand.
Our hopes are filled with promises of 
            well-being, justice, and mercy.
Move us this day beyond our fears and anxieties
            into your land of goodness.
                        We wait for your coming,
                        we pray for your kingdom.
            In the meantime, give us bread for the day.[9]

[1] That’s the route to hope the apostle Paul describes in Romans 6.3b-5a. And even though, as he says, “hope does not disappoint us,” it sounds like a rough journey!
[2] Again, look back at last year’s post, quoting Emily Dickinson and this amazing poem.
[3] See the movie. Or at least consider Cindy Hickman’s Abiding reflection from last week.
[4] Those numbers are even more staggering in Fahrenheit:  5,400-7,200. These numbers boggle one’s mind.
[5] Click here to learn about Green Legacy Hiroshima, which promotes worldwide planting of seeds and cuttings from these trees, as signs of caution and hope. A recent New York Times Opinion piece tells a more personal story of these survivors, called hibakusha(human survivors of the atom bomb) and hibakujumoku (the trees that survived).
[6] Brueggemann uses “YHWH” for the name of God that is often rendered as “Lord” in our Bibles. YHWH is often pronounced “Yahweh” but in Hebrew tradition this term was felt too holy to be spoken out loud. Here’s a more extended discussion of this subject.
[7] Walter Brueggemann, Hope Restored: Biblical Imagination against Empire, ed. Davis Hankins (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2023), 3. 
[8] Ibid., 5.
[9] “Waiting for Bread…and for God’s Future,” in Brueggemann, Prayers for a Privileged People (Nashville: Abingdon, 2008), 167.
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