I’ve spent a good deal of the day thinking about hope, thanks to a passage from Nora Gallagher’s book where she talks about Thomas’ encounter with Jesus after his resurrection and about the doubt Thomas expressed prior to seeing him.
There’s a phrase in Spanish: abrigar esperanzas, to shelter hope. Thomas may have been working hard not to believe the disciples’ story so to shelter hope. Hope is like love, maybe worse. It has to do with what is not yet, what is unseen, an architecture of dreams. If Thomas hoped to see Jesus again, and it turned out to be a hoax, what then? (52)
I think part of the reason it stuck with me was I was at a meeting at church last night and as our time was winding down the conversation turned to The Jesus Family Tomb, a new book and TV documentary coming out just in time for Lent and Easter. While many of us see this season as one of preparation, those in Christian marketing, or determined to market to Christians, see this as a season of sales. I’m sure this book and movie won’t be the last. One of the folks in our circle said, “I don’t think it’s true, but if it is, the implications for Christianity are enormous. I heard his sentiment as a variation on Gallagher’s question: if we believe in Jesus and it turns out to be a hoax, what then? How do we shelter hope?
According to dictionary.com, hope means “the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best.” They also include an archaic definition: to place trust. The meaning has moved from trust, which is steeped in relationship to more of a synonym for optimism. When Barack Obama spoke at the last Democratic convention, his said:
I’m not talking about blind optimism here — the almost willful ignorance that thinks unemployment will go away if we just don’t think about it, or the health care crisis will solve itself if we just ignore it. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about something more substantial. It’s the hope of slaves sitting around a fire singing freedom songs; the hope of immigrants setting out for distant shores; the hope of a young naval lieutenant bravely patrolling the Mekong Delta; the hope of a mill worker’s son who dares to defy the odds; the hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too.
Hope — Hope in the face of difficulty. Hope in the face of uncertainty. The audacity of hope!
Hope is audacious, but not as a political slogan. And I think it is this kind of rhetoric that made Barbara Ehrenreich’s anger so apparent in her essay, “Pathologies of Hope” in the most recent issue of Harpers.
I hate hope. It was hammered into me constantly a few years ago when I was being treated for breast cancer: Think positively! Don’t lose hope! Wear your pink ribbon with pride! A couple of years later I was alarmed to discover that the facility where I received my follow-up care was called the Hope Center. Hope? What about a cure? At antiwar and labor rallies over the years, I have dutifully joined Jesse Jackson in chanting “Keep hope alive” – all the while crossing my fingers and thinking, “Fuck hope. Keep us alive.”
Her words made me think of the scene in Terms of Endearment when the doctor tells Debra Winger she has breast cancer and then says, “I always tell my patients to hope for the best and prepare for the worst,” to which Shirley MacLaine replies, “And they let you get away with that.”
Ehrenreich finished her article by quoting Camus, who said we draw strength from the “refusal to hope, and the unyielding evidence of a life without consolation.”
Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.
What I realize, reading back through her article, is I think of hope in the archaic sense, more akin to faith than optimism: the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. The paradox is rich and demands trust: finding substance in the not yet and evidence in the invisible. I’m not sure hope calls us to rally as much as resolve, and less to positivity than perseverance.
I like Gallagher’s phrase: the architecture of dreams.
One of the most beautiful buildings I know is Trinity Episcopal Church in Boston. From its terra cotta colored exterior, with all the spires and coves, to the intricacy of the interior, with the variety of stained glass, the elevated pulpit, the murals on every wall, and the gold plated reliefs of the disciples encircling the Communion table, it takes my breath away. It is truly sacred space. It is also obvious that every move made creating the structure was done with intentionality. And before any bricks were stacked or mortar mixed, an architect imagined it and drew the dream into being. Those blueprints were the substance of things hoped for.
Hope is not positive or even wishful thinking; hope is hard work.
Hope needs sheltering. From one side come those who would water it down, who continue to say all it takes is a positive attitude – we just need to be hopeful; from the other side, are those who think we must just come to terms with the fact that life sucks and we die. If we have no expectations, we can’t be hurt or disappointed. When I look at Thomas, I think part of his reticence was he had not experienced what all the others had. The reason none of them had doubts is they had seen Jesus. He may have had his doubts, but he went to the room and waited. When Jesus came, he offered himself to Thomas. We’re the ones who stuck Tom with “Doubting” as a first name, not Jesus.
I’m not living a live-action version of the Three Little Pigs, where James Cameron and his film crew come in dressed as wolves and blow the church down with their boxes of bones. The shelter of hope is not made of straw, nor is it built on sand. I trust in the love and grace of God because I’ve got the scars to prove they are real.
I hope that’s enough.