The world is an ugly place right now. Wars, politics, climate change, it is all bad, or so the illusion goes. Hope is the basic ingredient of optimism and hope is a spiritual energy.
In the beatitudes, Jesus casts the hope of God’s love over marginalized people. In a time where we celebrate the 1%’rs, a lot of us are struggling with a lot right now and we can gain comfort in Jesus’ optimism.
Big H Hope and Little h hope
What is hope? When I had this conversation last summer, we talked jokingly about big H Hope, and little h hope. While the specifics of this conversation are just memories now, I think I can still sum it up. Big H hope is your faith, your biblical Hope, and your Hope in God. Little h hope are your desires, such as a hope of good grades or the hope that your sports team wins the big game. The author John Piper suggests three senses:
- A desire for something good in the future,
- the thing in the future that we desire, and
- the basis or reason for thinking that our desire may indeed be fulfilled.
Hoping in God is not easy. For modern folks, it is easy to not believe in a God when there is so much technology and knowledge about existence readily at our fingertips. I once heard that at one point in time, it was impossible to be an atheist because of our concepts of the natural world made it natural to believe in a God. In recent language, I have cultivated the notion that for me anyways, God is a transrational reality and my faith is then a subjective experience of this transtrational reality.
It is my Hope then, that God is the caring, guiding love that I have come to believe in and follow in my spiritual journey. For me, this hope is a feeling, a drawing towards, a pull that settles my soul when I move towards it.
The relationship between mindfulness and hopelessness
How do we do hope? As mentioned later, to have hope to have a measure of courage, a dose of patience and the persistence to live courageously and patiently among doubters and calamity. Little h hope can set us up to falsely up to want things to be other than they are. The practice of mindfulness whether from a Buddhist perspective, a Stoic perspective or even a contemplative Christian perspective can help us cultivate an acceptance of the way things are at the moment. In the three traditions mentioned above, all have understandings that things will change and that clinging to the way we always have done it leads to suffering.
Change and growth come from withing. Undertaking a mindful approach to this spiritual practice helps cultivate this change and growth. I reflect on lectio and reading in such a way that one is permeated by the words and infuses the soul.
“We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.”
When we think hope, we awaken hope within us. Hope is not a destination, it arises from our being, it is part of our true nature. A baby has faith and Hope that mommy or daddy will make them feel comfortable, our circumstances though can extinguish this hope, leading to feelings of hopelessness. Using mindfulness to combat hopelessness, we patiently return to our last known feelings of hope, sometimes with a therapist, a spiritual guide or a minister and we become deeply the hope that once experience. Here, I am reminded of Victor Frankl who was noted to say that even in our darkest hours, it is possible to find hope and meaning.
Three elements of this spiritual practice:
In my studies, and in my ongoing search for meaning, I have come across these three elements of hope consistently. Together, they make up the spiritual practice of hope, but on their own, they are their own practice.
Patience – patience is simply the ability to tolerate others or delays. One of the greatest mindfulness practices centers around our lack of patience. Suffering simply comes from our desires. In the case of the inability to tolerate others, one must ask “why do I see myself differently than this person I am impatient with? Why do I see myself as better?”
Courage – an attitude of trust and confidence when facing the unknown. Paul Tillich sums it up nicely:
Courage is the self-affirmation of being in spite of the fact of nonbeing. It is the act of the individual self in taking the anxiety of nonbeing upon itself by affirming itself either as part of an embracing whole or in its individual selfhood. Courage always includes a risk, it is always threatened by nonbeing, whether the risk of losing oneself becoming a thing within the whole of things or of losing one’s world in an empty self- relatedness.
Persistence – the determination to keep going no matter what happens. We practice hope when we can say all will be well, and we mean it. It is to be noted that this idea of persistence is not stubbornness, it is deeper than this, it is grit, it is the stick-to-it-ness that breeds discipline and success.
Engaging in a spiritual practice of hope cultivates not only hope, but eventually compassion and joy for the world around us. It helps us acknowledge our feelings, cultivate self-compassion, and move us through the muck of life.
TILLICH, P., & GOMES, P. J. (2000). Courage and Transcendence: [THE COURAGE TO ACCEPT ACCEPTANCE]. In The Courage to Be: Second Edition (pp. 155–190). Yale University Press. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1nq03m.9