Hope is Where the Heart Is

Winter arrived while we were away last weekend. We left Kitchener while the grass was yet green, but came back to 10 cm or so of snow on the lawn. This was doubled yesterday, and weather reports advise more of the same over the next few days. It’s looking like this year will be rather unlike the last, which was devoid of snow. I am happy for this, a thought discussed by my wife and I the other night on our drive home after curling. We both like our winters here. We grew up in Alberta, where the cold can be quite a bit more severe. Here there is more snow, less cold and a shorter winter. This seems amiable to us. We like four season, but are happy to avoid extremes. It is likely that our distant ancestors, from Scandinavia and environs, knew weather more like ours than that of our childhood.

We wondered what those first winters must have been like for our families – more accustomed to Danish, Western European and coastal Norwegian winters – arriving on the prairies with its sharp winters. Still, they survived and even thrived. Humans are resilient creatures, and hope for a better life pulls us through situations of all sorts. Hope is a hardy virtue.

During our last week in class, we had occasion to talk of the nature of hope, and its relation to doubt. I spoke of Paul Tillich’s insistence that certainty, not doubt, is the opposite of faith. This seed feel solidly in a few souls in class, and so I began to see some fruit here and there in term papers. Some students spoke, quite eloquently I might add, of their liberation in hearing this concept – new to them. One, in particular, wrote of how it helped her feel at home in her skin and make sense of scripture that was once obtuse to her. Giving a little room for not-knowing was freeing for her. I spoke recently to another student, of Rahner’s “Faith in a Wintry Season,” that speaks to the surprising persistence of faith in times that one might imagine capable of extinguishing it. Winter, was for him, a metaphor for those occasions that test faith true. Maybe that is why I am so warm on winter.

On the other hand, I am not so fond of the certainty I see in some adherents of faith. I am all for confidence, but confidence is located in the Divine while certainty, it seems, lands on the doorstep of the self. Winter is a season that points us to the Other and others. The other day, to illustrate, while snow-blowing our drive way, and the sidewalk on our half of the block, I saw many of my neighbours out assisting theirs in this way or that. Winter presses us to the necessity of looking out for the other. It is a season that announces our need, and nothing is as friendly for faith as need.

Shakespeare’s “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun of York” points us to summer’s reprieve, but while we travel still in this winter season, we do well to let our eyes follow the soft contours of snow on snow on snow, on branches ever green. Under this wintry blanket we find that hope that does not disappoint. Hatred may rage, but hope stills us; spite alienates but faith enfolds. And in our wintry faith we find time for being , for being still, and for still being hopeful.

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5 thoughts on “Hope is Where the Heart Is

  1. nicolaramsey says:

    Reblogged this on Nicola Ramsey's Blog and commented:
    “nothing is as friendly for faith as need”
    How true.

  2. shoreacres says:

    I never come to discussions of faith, hope, and doubt without remembering Joseph Sittler’s sermon titled “The View From Mt. Nebo.” I can’t find an online text now. There used to be one, but it seems to have disappeared. In any event, Sittler compared Moses atop Mt. Nebo with those who, still outside the faith, can glimpse its beauty, but for one reason or another are unable to enter into that particular promised land.

    Something I’ve been pondering for a couple of days now arose as a result of a reader’s comment. He said that he tended to be a “gloom and doomer,” even though he acknowledged the importance of hope. It set me thinking about hope and optimism, and how they aren’t at all identical.

    I can’t put it very well yet, but it seems to me that Luther’s explication of the First Commandment gets to the heart of the issue. There, he says that the question is, “Who is our God?” Do we believe in the one true God, or in one of the many false gods that surround us?” It seems to me that faith in the one, true God is what allows hope, even when every reason for optimism has been destroyed. Even though people use the terms interchangeably, I do think they’re different. More thought is required.

    Thus ends the lunch hour theologizing!

    • agjorgenson says:

      Thanks for this and the reminder to read more Sittler. I have done a bit but not enough, and find his interests ahead of his time. As for the hope vs optimism, I think the turn to the First Commandment is fitting, and would only add to that the observation that a theology of the cross admits hope but not optimism. Of course, Luther’s theology of the cross and his reflections on the First Commandment are of a piece in that both turn us from outside of ourselves to the one we meet in the cross. The self will look different/ly in hope rather than optimism, I think.

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