Keeping Hope Alive
Keeping Hope Alive
Christianity is mainly wishful thinking.
So says the theologian and novelist Frederick Buechner. If you look at the way Buechner writes about hope, this is what you find: Christianity is mainly wishful thinking.
‘Even the part about Judgment and Hell reflects the wish that somewhere the score is being kept. Dreams are wishful thinking. Children playing at being grown-ups is wishful thinking. Sometimes wishful thinking is the wings the truth comes true on. Sometimes the truth is what sets us wishing for it.’
Before the fear inside us – all of us at one time or another – starts acting up, grasping at certainties, pushing this surprising suggestion as far away as possible, it may be worth sitting quietly for a while. It may be worth putting the Christmas rush to one side, sitting quite still, not struggling to achieve anything, just opening our eyes and hearts wide, looking steadily at baby Jesus in his crib, at the helpless victim on a cross, letting his words flow over us and seep in.
Advent, the four-Sunday-season leading to Christmas, at its longest this year with not just four Sundays but four whole weeks, is offered for just this purpose, kindling and rekindling hope, keeping the flickering flame of hope alive.
This is harder for adults than for children, much harder, and increasingly hard work for all who know too much about the world. We know too much about everything. Too much about climate change, and time running out. Too much about our own fragility and mortality. Shaking off real-life threats whenever we can, amusing ourselves with distractions instead of facing up to harsh reality, pretending things are better than they are in the face of lies, brutality and violence. Holding too tight to what we know or think we know blinds us, so that we cannot see what God may be doing, unable to join the dance.
‘Sometimes wishful thinking is the wings the truth comes on.’ Perhaps prayer is wishful thinking time, time together and individually as Christmas rushes toward us, time when we will not avert our eyes or look the other way, when we determine to let truth wing its way to us, trusting that God gives grace and strength for whatever is required of us. Perhaps common prayer with its rituals and certainties is a perfect time and place to accustom ourselves to uncertainties, to fresh initiatives, listening intently for whatever the Christlike God is saying, to whatever melody the Spirit is singing today?
Not, of course, that keeping hope alive is just for keeping ourselves alive. Hope is about keeping everyone alive, sharing bread, joining hands to be and do together what we cannot be or do alone. Hope is about companions and friends for the journey, eating and drinking, laughing and weeping together as joyful pilgrims, knowing the Lord more clearly, loving him more dearly, following him more nearly each and every day. Yes, ‘Sometimes the truth is what sets us wishing for it.’ At Christmas and New Year, here is a prayer for us all.