Because I spend a great deal of time with people, I tend to be fairly aware of what is going on with them. Sometimes they tell me and others what’s happening and other times I simply pay attention and they may “talk” with body language or other means. I certainly don’t have any special gifts or skills in this. I think I just pay more attention than many people.
One of the facets of being human that fascinates me is what people hope for. It seems that humans tend to be creatures of hope. I have no clue whether we are genetically wired that way or if our environment---especially our American culture---shapes us to be hopeful. And I can imagine my own perception is warped by the kind of particular culture in which I live and spend most of my time. For example, much of my time is spent in a university setting and that surely is a place of significant hopes. Compare that to a slum which is mired in poverty and, perhaps, infested with drug dealers and the scene of hope is likely different. But I don’t know that culture.
Let’s assume that humans are designed for hope. That is how I would read the Genesis creation stories. God created us with the hope that we would enjoy Eden and participate in the relationship with the Holy One. Of course, we went off on our own. We plucked the fruit, ate and blew it. We opted for a piece of fruit and fractured the relationship with God. Bad choice and lousy deal. For dessert we had to desert Eden!
East of Eden the nature of hope changes. Instead of paradise, humans were put to work. Pain and suffering enters the human picture. Complaints dominate whereas contentment characterized Eden. But there is still hope East of Eden. In this new place hope becomes an element of the future. Our world is still East of Eden. For us today hope still deals with the future. Hope is how we would like “tomorrow” to be.
Our hopes might be very short term. It is not unusual for a student to walk into a class and “hope” to get an A. On the other hand, hope might be very long term. A new parent usually hopes the infant grows up and develops in good, healthy ways. It is typical that same parent hopes the infant becomes successful and has a great life. But the parent knows it will take many years before that hope is realized.
I am intrigued by how hope works. At the outset, let me suggest I think there actually are some things humans can do to enhance the likelihood their hopes might come to pass. And clearly, there are other aspects of hope that are entirely out of our control or influence. Let me elaborate.
In the first place we can note that the seeds of hope are always planted in the soil of the present. This is obvious, but too often we overlook the obvious. Another way of saying the same thing is to acknowledge that it is in our “todays” we hope for “tomorrow.” In our normal understanding of time, we are always in “today.” Yesterday is gone and tomorrow is not yet. We exist today. And we know that today will pass into a “yesterday.” And we know that in a day “tomorrow” will become “today.” But we are always in today.
It is for that reason that I am sure that the seeds of hope we plant are always planted in the soil of the present. By definition what I hope for “today” is not in my present. If it were, I would not have to hope for it. However, there are some things I can do to enhance the chances that what I hope for will come to be. Let’s look at a couple things.
In the first place, we can choose those seeds of hope wisely. By this I mean some seeds of hope are pretty realistic, some are a reach and some, apparently, are nearly impossible. I illustrate with a spiritual example. I think it is quite realistic to hope that I can have an experience of God if I want. I think God is always eager to be present with us. And if we hope for that, it is pretty likely to come to be.
However, I might really hope for a mystical experience of God. That begins to specify what kind of experience I want. This raises the bar on hope. My hope is now picky! God may or may not want to be mystically present with me. And that hope can even be narrowed. I might have hope that I have a mountaintop mystical experience of God in which I lose my very sense of being and am fully absorbed into the Presence of the Holy One. That might happen, but it is not very likely.
To plant that last seed of hope in the soil of the present means there is hardly any chance at all that my hope will actualize. So I am reminded to choose wisely the seeds of hope that I plant in the soil of my present.
And secondly, I can cultivate carefully the ground of hope. I can give attention to how I live in the present so as to ensure the best growing conditions for the seeds of hope that are planted. I think about things like spiritual disciplines that enhance spiritual hopes. The good news assures us there is hope. Be wise and careful with the seeds of hope.