“Hope rises. It rises from the heart of life, here and now, beating with joy and sorrow. Hope longs. It longs for good to be affirmed, for justice and love to prevail, for suffering to be alleviated, and for life to flourish in peace. Hope remembers the dreams of those who have gone before and reaches for connection with them across the boundary of death. Hope acts – to bless, to protest, and to repair. Hope can be disappointed, especially when it is individual rather than shared, or when – even as shared aspiration – it encounters entrenched opposition. To thrive, hope requires a home, a sustaining structure of community, meaning, and ritual. Only with such a habitation can hope manifest the spiritual stamina it needs to confront evil, endure through trouble, and “hold fast to that which is good.'” – A House for Hope – The Promise of Progressive Religion for the Twenty-first Century
It’s bad right now. The news is a horror show of atrocities and it seems like anytime we find a brief moment to breathe, another earth-shattering round of violence explodes across the networks. Our social media feeds are often just as bad. They become echo chambers of well-warranted grief, rage and frustration. The collective howling of broken hearts and outraged morals can become a clattering din that drowns out anything but its own screaming.
What’s a Pagan to do? How do we keep the tender flame of hope alive when the winds of pain and grief are so strong?
That which is fed increases.
Emotions do not exist in a vacuum and for hope to thrive it must be fed with intention. Out of all the aspirational feelings, hope is one of the most sensitive to outside stimuli. What we feed our minds and hearts matters. As UU Pagans, we must respond to our changing world with more than angry protest and righteous rage. We must tend the shrine of hope. The ability to feel more than one emotion at a time is a complex gift. At this time, it is also a necessary one. In order to meet the onslaught of need with meaningful action and not crumble under the psychological weight of it, hope must be fed.
Hope needs reinforcement from those of like mind. I live in Western Maryland and my immediate Pagan community includes eclectics, agnostics, Heathens, Hellenics, Druids, members of the OTO, Animists, Green Witches, Wiccans and probably a few partridges in pear trees. We differ in belief, but our values are very similar. When we gather together for Frederick CUUPS activities, we have a chance to interact in person with people who share our perspectives. Those shared perspectives and times of togetherness feed the flame of hope.
Hope thrives on symbolism. The stories we tell and rituals we build can influence the aspirational emotions of everyone who attends them. Right now, our stories must be those of overcoming fear, obstacles and shadow. This is a good time for rituals and ceremonies that remind us that the earth is bountiful. When the worst of human behavior is on parade, turning to the repeating cycles of growth, harvest, sleep, and seed help us recenter. This is also a good time for rituals and ceremonies that focus on sharing light and inspiration.
A single candle in a dark room spreading light to the candles of everyone else in attendance is a powerful symbol. A gathering where everyone wears a dark scarf, cloak or shawl over white clothing and then removes that top layer is a powerful ritual action. As you are designing offerings for your community, consider the symbols and actions that kindle light and hope and place them at the center of your ceremonies.
If your rituals have a mythic or story-based core, choose myths carefully right now. Which ones teach us how to endure challenges? Which Gods, Heroes and Powers stand up to the shadow and succeed? Chants and songs can also be selected to increase hope. Which chants remind us of our strength? Which songs fill us with light and joy? Paganism is often described as a celebratory religion. Weaving those specific threads creates a guide we can all hold onto in the darkness. When your community heads home from a ritual still humming the melody of a chant you used, it’s good for that chant to be one that inspires hope and that allows us to return to the world uplifted. We carry our magick with us when we go, so the tone of that magick is absolutely vital.
Rituals themselves are stories as well. Like a nesting doll, the myth at the center of a ritual has another story around it – the ritual flow itself. Rituals that start softly and increase in action, light, music, dance and joy are their own tale of growing brightness. Now is the time to bring in the ritual drummers, now is the time for ecstatic dance and unbridled movement.
Hope thrives on community and we need more than ritual. My own CUUPS chapter is responding by offering activities that are rooted in social connection. We are introducing a storytelling night where participants bring a myth from their belief system or culture to share. We are transforming our usual Yule ritual to a Yule Feast with ritual elements but a social focus. We are focusing on offering classes and workshops that empower, uplift and offer new skills. We are thinking more about how to improve the quality of our social time together before and after rituals and ceremonies. Simple, loosely structured time to just be together and remember that we are not alone is vital right now.
‘I wish it need not have happened in my time,’ said Frodo. ‘So do I,’ said Gandalf, ‘and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.’” – The Fellowship of the Ring
This is a hard time to live and work in the world. But this is our time. I believe we are up to it. I believe that we can be and do more than one thing. We can fight with righteous rage the forces of hate, division and violence that are trying to tear our world apart. We can also keep the engine that powers those responses fueled with hope. Do you have some good ideas for kindling and feeding the flame of hope? Share them in the comments. Let’s keep us strong so we can keep moving forward.