When I ask what hope is, usually the answers revolve around two things: belief and the future. We locate it in the realm of the mind and spirit and, of course, in the not yet of the future. But it is something we experience now. When we pay attention to it, we realize it resides in our bodies, in our spirits, now. Hope is embodied.
Let's start with noticing what hope feels like physically. Take a moment and consider something that draws hope up in you, then notice what you are feeling physically.
I've noticed it feels differently in different circumstances. When I'm in a situation that seems devoid of possibilities, a dead end, then I feel hope in my gritted teeth, furrowed brow, core bracing. It is survival instinct. Yet, sometimes, in a similar situation, surrender can be the truest embodiment of hope—in its tension releasing, often tear-laden, manifestation. Conversely, when I'm in a situation with opportunities then hope feels light, smiling, energetic.
I imagine Jesus feeling this latter kind as he went about healing many; yet on his way to the cross, the determined surrender born of his suffering hope, "Jerusalem, Jerusalem...How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!" Matt. 23:37
Given that hope is experienced in our bodies, we can practice it, even and especially, when we are suffering and are most in need of it. Mariame Kaba is an activist who works for prison abolition. A mantra that sustains her she heard from a nun once: "Hope is a discipline." And it is. We practice it when we get out of bed and pray despite nagging doubts that there is a God, when we write another letter to a senator, when we teach and re-teach a skill to a young one, when we pick up a pen or paintbrush to create, when we share our painful truth with someone who loves us or we love someone when they share theirs. Enfleshing hope in these ways is a trusting response to something, someone beyond us that is drawing us into life.
One of the great challenges to hope is what it gets attached to. When our expectations dictate outcomes and these do not come to pass, we can feel betrayed, rocked from our foundation, and know despair. If we are willing, hope can then become at once muscular, and expansive. We let go of these outcomes but continue to hope in blind trust. Kate Bowler, professor at Duke Divinity School and sufferer of terminal cancer, said once, "Hope now feels like God's love is like an anchor that's dropped way in the future. And I'm just, along with everyone else, being slowly pulled toward it."
Hope is tuned to the essential, ringing loudest when that metal is struck inside a life and providing a tone like a homing beacon. The destination, the outcome, of hope, is home. It is not that we tie hope to an outcome, but that we are tied by hope and held attached to the One who is Home, drawing us to our conclusions. After all, it is God's hope and hopeful action in Jesus that reaches out to us.
As we enter Advent, this season of longing and expectation, allow hope space. Give it attention and find ways of practicing it.
Find more contemplative experiences for this holy season of Advent and Christmas with the Dominican Sisters ~ Grand Rapids.
Author: Kimberley Mulder is a spiritual director trained at Portland Seminary and Program Assistant at Dominican Center Marywood. She enjoys creating and hosting experiences and learning opportunities that tend souls. It is her experience and belief that when we live from the true self in Christ, we become people of courage, hope, patience, compassion, and peace. Her motivation underlying her group facilitating, writing, teaching, and coordinating is that all will encounter God and therefore take another step towards their wholeness, to soulful living. Kimberley is a lifelong learner, a lover of nature and color, a seeker of wonder, and active comtemplative.