Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Hope sounds like breathing

"Love" may be the greatest of all the words I know, but I think "hope" may be the biggest.

Hope is an overused word these days, of course. "I hope it will not rain on Saturday." We put the word on political posters: not because we are certain of what it means, but because we are not certain, because with such a big word stamped on a poster for all to see, everyone can pour into "hope" whatever it is they are looking for. Any smaller word would evoke something specific, and so we put in the biggest word we have and let people interpret it how they want. Our biggest word turns into a word that means so many things, it might as well mean nothing.

But that is just the cynic in me talking, and I am reminded that it is the very thing about which I am talking that is the answer to my cynicism. I hang on to hope, tight-fisted, in an earnest attempt to move beyond, to see beyond, to wrestle with the fact that though the world seems to stop at the horizon, there is always something just over the ridge.

I say that hope is the biggest word I know because of its power, but also because I am not quite sure what it means.

Oh, I know its definition. I can define hope. I can even put it in a sentence! But I am not exactly sure what all hope means, because every time I try to contain it, hope shows me that it is quite bigger than I imagined, larger than my preconceived notions. Hope is not one thing, after all. It is not simply wanting, nor is it simply looking forward to. Hope is bigger than these ideas, more complex than want and more nuanced than desire. And yet, want and expectation and desire are all bound up in "hope."

I wish I knew a clearer way to say this, but this, to me, is the promise of hope. Like all of the great words, the only definition that is adequate is the one which has no basis in language, the one that cannot be spoken as easily as it can be lived, as it can be made manifest in the son of God.

In his book the Irresistable Revolution, Shane Claiborne quotes Indian activist Arundhati Roy.

"Another world is not only possible," she says, "she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing."

What is hope? I cannot tell you what hope is. But I can tell you what hope sounds like. It sounds like breathing.

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