(Keeping to my pledge to write thirty-four blogs, one every Monday, on how the Camino continues to affect my life– the same number as the days I walked the 500-mile pilgrimage)
I’m writing about hope today because I don’t fully understand it. What I do know is that even if I have questions about living in hope, I don’t want to be without it; I’d rather have hope than be hopeless. But if I hope for something, does that mean I’m not content with what is? Do I need to hope for something other than the Reality of what’s unfolding right in front of me? Is it up to me to decide what to hope for, what outcome? This is my conundrum.
In my book, I mentioned Gerald May, one of my teachers in the spiritual direction training I took twenty years ago. When I met him he was not well physically–I believe his heart was failing as a side effect from cancer treatment. He was thin and frail-looking, but his eyes were so bright and his spirit so alive and full of childlike playfulness that he disarmed me. It was rumored he didn’t have long to live, and in fact, he died less than two years later. He was writing a book at the time, which would be his last, called The Dark Night of the Soul (Harper Collins, 2004.)
The term “the dark night of the soul” seems a little sinister at first, but is not “necessarily a time of suffering and despair, but rather one of deep transition,” says May. “Our liberation takes places mysteriously, in secret, and beyond our conscious control.” And certainly I feel that my pilgrimage had many of the aspects of this kind of dark night.
I mention his writing now because in this book, he also writes of hope (pp. 190-194) in a section called Hope in the Morning. He bemoans the fact that he is always attached to the idea of making progress in his spiritual journey and “yet the truth of the journey completely transcends my petty notions of progress.”
“So in the end I am left only with hope. I hope the nights are really transformative. I hope every dawn brings deeper love, for each of us individually and for the world as a whole. I hope John of the Cross was right when he said the intellect is transformed into faith, and the will into love, and the memory into….hope.”
Here is the line that I contemplate the most: “It is not a hope for peace or justice or healing; that would be an attachment. It is just hope, naked hope, a bare energy of open expectancy.”
When May visited with survivors of the Bosnian War–people who literally had lost everything–he was surprised to sense a shining hope in them. He asked if they hoped for peace. “Oh no, it’s gone too far for that,” they replied.
He asked if they hoped for U.N. intervention. “Oh, no. It’s too late for that.” He said there was simply nothing they could think of to hope for.
So he asked, “How can you hope when there is nothing to hope for?” They answered. “Bog.” The Serbo-Croatian word for God.
Brother David Steindl-Rast writes in his book, Gratefulness: The Heart of Prayer (Paulist Press,1984), that hope is by definition openness to surprise, similar to what May called open expectancy.
Both of these definitions are saying in effect, that we are not in control and we don’t know. When I dug a little further in my library, A.H. Almaas, in his book, Facets of Unity (Diamond Books, 1994), speaks of Holy Hope vs. egoic hope. “It is the activity of the ego which does not trust Being or God is doing everything, will do everything, and, if one surrenders to it, its optimizing thrust will spontaneously deliver us. This striving embodies egoic hope, as opposed the the flow that expresses the optimism of Holy Hope. Egoic hope makes us react and disconnect from our experience, while Holy Hope makes us relax and open up to the unfolding that is carrying us harmoniously to fulfillment.” (p. 274).
Holy Hope then to me is not helplessness. It isn’t striving for what I want. It isn’t my agenda. It is, yet again, surrendering. How often it comes back to this.
Does this answer all my questions about hope? No. It feels mystical and maybe I will never by my own reason come to fully understand it. I will come again and again to it. But I can hold all the things I hope for–for myself, for loved ones, for the world–with a lightness, with trust, not helplessness, that things are unfolding as they should, no matter how different that looks on the surface. As in the Dark Night, God is working in ways unseen, with a perspective we can’t understand, with a love we can’t fathom. These wise teachers guide me toward being relaxed. To living a life that I don’t control, but rather a life with openness to surprise. (and yes, I confess–I still want that surprise to be what I define as a good surprise..sigh. Surrender yet again.)