Keeping Hope Alight

For a year now I have promised to try to light a candle of hope and post a picture of it every day. For a year now I have been struggling to do so.

January 20th is the anniversary of the most recent presidential Inauguration, and though I will never tell anyone who to vote for, I was scared when he was elected. My family is filled with a glorious rainbow of LGBTQAI.  My life is not conservative Christian friendly.  I saw the election of a racist misogynist and I was afraid for my folk and myself. So Rev. Michael J. Dangler came up with this crazy idea to light a candle every day. I tried to organize a brigade for it.  (What a surprise. I tried to organize a group of people. Anyone who knows me will be just horribly shocked, I’m sure)  But that didn’t really pan out.  I very much wanted to have some sort of physical and ongoing action to help us all remember that hatred is not acceptable.  

A candle lit with a brightly colored background and a quote, We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their color." by Maya Angelou
The Flame of Hope Image by Melissa Hill

I wanted to help people remember that it’s all too easy to forget our convictions. It’s easy to slide into an uneasy complacency rather than take action that makes us stand out as different. Many of us can hide behind the veneer of privilege. I wanted to remind myself and others that action is ongoing.  So I lit the Flame of Hope a year ago and have been haphazardly tending it ever since.

What Have I Learned in that Time About Hope?

  • I’ve learned that it’s hard to have hope every day.
  • That it ebbs and flows and often annoys me.  
  • A devotional that involves posting a picture a day is good graphic design practice.
  • If you take a photo of a candle every day it’s really hard to make it interesting.
  • That sometimes you light a candle and don’t actually want to share it with Facebook
  • That hope is hard, and filled with work and if you don’t think hope is hard and filled with work you’re probably doing it wrong.

Because it’s Me, I Researched Hope

From the Greeks and Romans:

ἐλπίς is the Greek personification of Hope, translated as Elpis.  Spes is the Roman Republic’s equivalent.  Elpis is what’s left in Pandora’s box. Elpis wasn’t really worshipped by the Greeks, though Spes was worshiped by the Romans as one of the virtues inherited from the gods rather than one of the indwelling virtues of man.

For instance: Security, Prosperity, Victory, and Hope come from the Gods.

Intelligence, Viritus(manliness/honor), and Faith come from humans.

So we know that Hope comes from the Gods in both cases, and that through a nasty trick with a box, Pandora stuck us with a bunch of things that humans don’t like and Hope was the rather sad little consolation prize.

“Hope in reality is the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torments of man.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche

From the Norse:

Vaetta and Ván are  words for hope in old Norse.

But wait. There’s a story.  I didn’t find this until I was deep in my google fu. It was a little like having it right in front of me the whole time. So, to the story:

Many people know a little of the tale of Loki’s wayward wolf son and how he grew mighty and dangerous so that the Gods who had raised him came to fear him. There was prophecy that he would wreak great damage, but the gods could not kill Fenrir because it would pollute their sacred spaces.

As the story goes, we know too that the Gods struggled to bind him.  The first fetter he snapped easily and the second he did rend as well. But the third was formed of wit and magic and looked like a silken ribbon.  This one did make Fenrir fear and so he did the thing we have all heard of, and demanded that one of the Gods place their hand in his mouth in surety of his eventual freedom.

It was Tyr who put his hand in the mouth of the great wolf, knowing what would come. And it did, when the wolf could not escape and realized he had been tricked by the gods, he bit the hand that had fed him.  

And this is where Hope comes in.

After they tied him, the gods pierced Fenrir’s mouth with a sword and where his saliva flowed from his mouth there became the River Van or the River of Hope.

And thus the story ends and hope appears. In both cases, Hope arises from treachery and the control or lack of control of chaos. In Pandora’s case, she’s given a box and we all know it’s a rigged game from the start, and in Fenrir’s case it takes three times for the Gods to properly rig the game so they win.

The treachery of the gods gives us hope.

I’m still not sure what to think of that. But I find that I don’t need hope when there isn’t treachery.  When life is good, when I have a happy hobbit hole I don’t need for much I don’t think about Hope.  Hope only comes into existence when there difficulty. It is the shadow of the shadow, I suppose.  An echo or reaction to suffering. It is the saliva of chained chaos. Right now, I need Hope.

a box with candles lit within it reflecting in a mirror in the box lid to make a circle of candles.
Flame of Hope Image by Melissa Hill

Then I Researched the Etymologies. Because Me. 

Hope in Proto-Indo-European: *kēwp-, *kwēp- (“to smoke, boil”).

Also: Cognate with Latin cupio ‎(“want, desire, covet, crave”), Latin vapor ‎(“steam”), Ancient Greek κύπρις ‎(kúpris, “love; Aphrodite”).Verb – *hupōną to hope, expect

From a Proto-Indo-European root akin to *kwep- (“to smoke, boil, move violently”); see also Lithuanian kūpėti (“to boil over”), Old Church Slavonic кꙑпети (kypeti, “to boil”), Sanskrit कुप्यति (kupyati, “become agitated, bubbles up”), English hope.

Hope relates to the latin cupio: desire. To the lithuanian kūpėti: boiling over which has connotations of abundance.

Spes is derived from a totally different source, From Proto-Italic *spēs, from Proto-Indo-European *spéh₁s (“prosperity”), from *speh₁- (“to succeed, prosper”).

What Does This All Mean?  

Hope is complicated, about desire and intensity. It boils over. It is emotional. It is about getting what one wants. Hope is a dangerous force that is paired with myths about controlling and releasing primal chaos (Fenris and Pandora).  For a year now I have been lighting the Flame of Hope. At times I have been on fire with it and at other time I have slogged. Devotional practices are like that, and the practice is its own benefit.  The struggle to stick with something exercises willpower, but I have missed days because of illness, or tiredness, or even occasionally pure obstinacy. I promised to try. So I keep trying.  

I’ve heard some people say that Hope is a suckers game, and seen it praised by the Star Wars franchise. Is Hope a goddess? A virtue?  Is it good or bad? A year in, I still cannot say for sure. I’d like to have clearer answers, but sometimes she’s a fickle mistress. (I can personify anything!)

I find that hope is most useful in action.  However if it keeps you from acting, if it makes you feel placid or self-satisfied I think your Hope is failing you. If it lifts you up so that you can keep walking it is good. Let your Hope make you a better person.

For now I will say that Hope is a tool, and like any good tool it can cut you if you use it wrong. Use hope wisely. Do not hope for foolish things. Hope for others rather than yourself.  Be idealistic and pragmatic in your Hope and always make sure that Hope leads to action rather than complacency.

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”
― Martin Luther King Jr.

If you’d like to see our ongoing devotional process Tending the Flame of Hope here’s the link.

If you find value in my work and would like to support my writing, activism, and priestwork, please consider donating at my patreon. Thank you. 

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