Jane Austen called hope a "more fascinating name" for patience, and I've always liked that. Patience implies waiting for something that WILL come; it's just a matter of waiting in the meantime. Hope, to me, is not just wishing, but patient certainty that good WILL come and cannot fail to come.

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A dear friend of mine, in the midst of writing a homily on the subject, asked on Facebook today "What gives you hope?" I wanted that answer his question, but I realized, I don't really know. I struggle with the concept of hope, not because I'm an incessant pessimist (in fact, one of my favorite pieces of my writing from this year is this piece where I define myself as an "optimistic catastrophizer" https://justindametz.wordpress.com/2022/09/16/the-world-is-probably-ending-but-i-dont-feel-too-bad-about-that/) but because I think hope is a much more difficult and theologically loaded question than it is commonly understood to be. In fact, I think it was Josef Pieper who said that hope is a meaningless concept outside of Christianity, and I don't necessarily disagree with that.

That same friend, in a Zoom call this afternoon, pointed me to this quote by my favorite of theologians, Stanley Hauerwas: "Yet hope can be misguided. A number of years ago a friend’s son was diagnosed as a schizophrenic. His father and mother did everything to help him regain his sanity. I told them, however, that their first line of defense was to give up hope, that is, the hope that he would get better. Such hope is a form of optimism that you cannot help but feel during those periods when the one that is ill seems to be “better.” But an optimistic hope will finally not sustain you from one episode to the next. Yet it is also the case that you cannot survive without hope, though a hope that is grounded in a very different reality than optimism. The kind of hope that sustains you is a hope that makes endurance an ongoing way of life without the refusal to give up destroying you. Such a hope takes the form of prayer, in which God is made present in the lives of those suffering from a debilitating illness, as well as those that care for them. In short, hope is the virtue that sustains us with the conviction that no life is without meaning."

This resonates deeply with me. Hope is not mere optimism, and hope is not divorced from reality. In fact, hope is - must be - grounded in a recognition of the way things really are, in the world as it is in all its fallenness and unfulfilled nature. Hope goes beyond vague, smiling belief that everything with turn out all right in the end, whatever that end might be. Hope, instead, is an understanding that the way the world will be is already prefigured for us, in the Cross of Christ, in the fact that sickness and sin and death (that is, meaninglessness) cannot and will not have the final word, but, as Hauerwas says, it will have meaning.

I said above that I generally agree with Pieper about the contextuality of hope, but perhaps I don't fully believe that. Because this is being discussed where it is, I am reminded of this passage from "The Return of the King": “There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.” The Star of Earendil represents that hope, above and beyond the Shadow, that cannot be extinguished by Morgoth or Sauron or any of their minions. As in Tolkien, so may it be here in our world.

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I believe God hopes for us. Paul says that after everything these three will remain, faith, hope, and love. If hope is eternal like faith and love, then God is the source of this hope. Paul also says in Acts that God created humanity "in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him..." (Acts 27:17 NKJV).

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