The English word “despair” comes from the Latin desperare from de- “without” + sperare “to hope.” Without hope, life can easily be too much, and despair comes knocking at the door. Hope is not optimism. Optimism is a mere gloss on the surface. The traditional symbol for hope is an anchor. An anchor will hold you fast and keep you from drifting, and yet, pulled up and stowed, an anchor also travels with you as you sail ahead in life. Hope is a “steadfast anchor of the soul,” we read in the Letter to the Hebrews 6:19. Hope is something that rests deeper in the water than what happens on the stormy surface of life. For Saint Paul, all that we do and every step we take is underlined by hope. We live by hope, he reminds us. Most everything else in life is fleeting, and yet “faith, hope, and love abide.”1 Cor. 13:13
Hope is fueled by the presence of God, who gives us breath: dum spiro, spero, while I breathe, I hope. Hope is also fueled by the future of God in our lives: a small seed which perhaps we cannot even see right now, planted by God into the ground of our being. We have a sense of it long before we can see it and realize how it will blossom. How can you nurture these seeds of hope in your soul? Draw from your miracle memory what you already know about sailing in uncharted waters. How in the world have you faced what you’ve had to face to get to be where you are? You are a walking miracle. You are also an experienced navigator. Recall Saint Paul’s formula, that we “boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” Rom. 5:3-5 Hope is an anchor amidst the storms of life.
Hope lies in what is possible, not what is predictable. Hope is adventurous. Hope is open for surprise, to enable us to navigate the changes and chances of life. Emily Dickinson writes so playfully:
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without words
And never stops at all.
You do have the gift of hope already. If you feel despair and have only the desire for hope, you have hope. The desire is not an absence but rather a presence of hope, only in seedling form. Cultivate the gift, which is to co-operate with what God is already doing in your life, has done in the past, shall do in the future. Breathe in hope, remember in hope, anticipate God’s future for you in hope. Recall the comforting words of the prophet Jeremiah: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jer. 29:11
Especially during these challenging and opportune times, we brothers seek to live, pray, and serve with a robust sense of God’s hope and God’s sustenance. We invite you to visit us, in person and online: www.SSJE.org. May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace. Rom. 15:13
In Jesus’ love,
Curtis G. Almquist, SSJE