We can’t do it without hope. As foolish as hope may seem, the alternative—despair—won’t help us. Hope motivates, empowers, heals, and stills us. When we can find even just one reason to cling to hope, it can change everything. Because when you change your inner world, everything changes in your outer world even when nothing changes.
In this first Advent episode of the EvoFaith Podcast, we take a closer look at hope. And I share the key reasons why I am not ready to give up on hope.
So much of what I’m seeing online, and what I’m hearing in conversations tells me that many of us are losing of hope with everything going on in our world. Just the other day I was hearing about someone who has been out of work for over a year and has fallen into depression. They’re lashing out at everyone around them and feeling so angry and filled with shame and hopelessness. And now it’s affecting their relationships and leaving them isolated and hurting even more.
Perhaps you’re also facing difficult realities that are challenging your ability to hold on to hope. Maybe you’re struggling to make ends meet in a struggling economy. Maybe your relationships are under pressure because of some struggle, or the way you’ve all changed, or something that has happened in your life. Maybe you find yourself in a toxic work environment or being asked to do more work for the same or less pay. Perhaps you’re experiencing changes in what you believe and you can no longer find the comfort you once did in your faith and prayers. I could go on, but there’s no end to the list of things that make hope difficult. Add to this the global forces that have a very real impact on our lives and hope can seem like a fantasy. I’m reminded of Red in Shawshank Redemption who warns Andy: “Let me tell you something, my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.”
And yet, as Andy declares, hope is one of the greatest gifts we have. Along with faith and love, hope is a key element in our mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health—and in living a full and meaningful life. That’s why, in the Scriptures, we are called to cling to hope even when things seem completely hopeless. And if we are ever going to find a way through the turbulence in our lives and world, we need hope. Despair can’t help us.
So, what does it mean to choose hope when hope seems naïve and foolish? In the Bible reading from Matthew’s Gospel that is set for Advent Sunday, Jesus warns his disciples to stay alert.
But nobody knows when that day or hour will come, not the heavenly angels and not the Son. Only the Father knows. As it was in the time of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Human One. In those days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark. They didn’t know what was happening until the flood came and swept them all away. The coming of the Human One will be like that. At that time there will be two men in the field. One will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill. One will be taken and the other left. Therefore, stay alert! You don’t know what day the Lord is coming. But you understand that if the head of the house knew at what time the thief would come, he would keep alert and wouldn’t allow the thief to break into his house. Therefore, you also should be prepared, because the Human One will come at a time you don’t know.
(Matthew 24:36-44 CEB)
This passage is often thought to be about Jesus returning in glory at the end of the world. But that’s not what Jesus is talking about. He’s warning his disciples about the coming Roman sacking of Jerusalem, which happened between 66 and 70 CE. And when he speaks about the Human One coming, he’s really talking about experiencing God’s reign breaking into the turmoil of the world—that moment when we realise that there are forces at work and realities in existence beyond what we can see on the surface of our world’s systems. It’s when something happens within us that changes our inner world, which then changes the outer world for us even if nothing changes. And at the heart of this experience is this call to stay awake, to be alert, and to be constantly seeking the signs of hope in the midst of the chaos.
This means that hope is a choice. Yes, the worst may happen, but despair won’t help us through it. And we always have a choice in how we respond. Hope whispers that there is always something to cling to, some small glimmer of light. I am reminded of the quote—whose source is unknown as far as I’m aware—that says this: “Hope is the bird which senses the dawn and sings while it is still dark.”
If we can find even the smallest hope to cling to, it can change everything for us. Because when you change your inner world, everything changes in your outer world even if nothing changes.
So where do I find hope? And what can we do to nurture our capacity for hope in this troubling time in our lives and world? Here are some of my reasons for refusing to give up on hope:
Spiritually, I can’t give up on hope because I believe what Martin Luther King Jr. said: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” On a global scale, this gives me hope that the extremism, fundamentalism and populism that seems to have grown in the last few years will ultimately be overcome by justice. Racism, patriarchy, anti-LGBTQIA+ violence, war, the gap between rich and poor, and all the other injustices in our world will ultimately be overcome by justice. Maybe not in our lifetimes, but sometime. And we will see some steps forward—we already have.
But on a personal level, the arc of the universe bends toward justice too. When we feel depressed, despairing and afraid, we become angry and we may start to lash out at others unfairly. But when we have hope, we’re able to remain positive and we connect more deeply with others, both to nurture our hope and to uplift our loved ones.
So, where is despair impacting your relationships and leading to unjust conflict and struggle? And where is hope strengthening them and helping you to be more deliberately fair with one another?
Then, from an evolutionary perspective, I have hope because, as I heard someone say years ago, the universe evolves on a trajectory of compassion. A key belief in evolutionary spirituality is that life evolves in the direction of greater complexity and connectedness. And that means that the bias in our universe is toward compassion.
It may seem like evil is in control, but over time our world has become more concerned for human rights, not less. On so many key measures of well-being, we are doing better than ever. And this trajectory of compassion gives me hope. Where do you see and experience compassion in your life and relationships?
Globally, we also see this shift toward greater connection, compassion, and mutual contribution. As we look back at history, we see that the Hitlers and Trumps of the world may triumph for a moment, but they are eventually overcome. In South Africa, Apartheid, State Capture and other ills have all fallen in time. And the same is true in other parts of the world. I see signs of hope in all of these events and shifts. What events can you identify that give you reason to hope right now?
Relationally, I find hope in my loved ones and in how we inspire hope in each other. There is power in reaching out and connecting deeply with others. And relationships are one of the best sources of hope around! What relationships give you hope?
And then finally, I find hope personally through a regular spiritual practice of seeking reasons for hope. If I can find just one reason to cling to hope, one small, hopeful action I can take to nurture hope within me, it makes all the difference to my life. We all have capacities, gifts, strength, resilience, opportunity, and experience from which we can draw hope. We just need to find it within us and hold on to it so tightly. What is one thing within you that gives you hope?
Now is not the time to lose hope. Now is the time to feed it, strengthen it and cling to it. Because when you change your inner world, everything changes in your outer world even if nothing changes.
In the next episode, we look at another quality that is central to the Advent and Christmas seasons—peace. And we’ll explore how we can nurture peace even when everything around us is chaotic and in turmoil.
But for now, that’s all I have. Thank you for your time and attention. Stay connected to the Sacred. And I’ll catch you next time.
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