The Necessity of Hope
The first two Sundays in Advent, we heard very fine sermons at St. Alban’s. (You can find them on our website if you missed them.) Rev. Emily started us off by asking “What are we waiting for?” Then a few days ago, Rev. Jim asked us what we hope for; this fueled my retrospection about hope. I’d like to share a very personal memory, with the wish that it might contribute to your Advent meditations.
One of my children had a years-long struggle with mental illness that became more profoundly debilitating as time went on. We went through the entire menu of pharmaceuticals, psychotherapy, hospitalizations, and electroconvulsive therapy to no avail. I vividly recall a conversation, in my desperate daughter’s presence, with her psychiatrist. The doctor gave me a stern look and told me my child would not get well, she would just get sicker. “Mrs. Turner, you are doing your daughter a disservice to hold out hope for her.” I shot back: “You cannot tell a mother not to hope.”
I sat for hours after that, trying to imagine having no hope. I couldn’t. What was faith without hope? How was I to pray? If my daughter was not going to get well, wasn’t there still hope for…? That was the beginning of my almost frantic exploration of hope. I talked to my priests and poured over scripture and other books. It was Mother Teresa of Calcutta who eventually spoke to me.
“Hope is the space where miracles can happen.”
There it was. Hope isn’t always “for” something. Perhaps it’s often just a state of being, of living without knowing the last chapter, without filling in the blanks. I did not need to write the script for God, but I had to make a space in my mind and heart and prayers for God to fill. Living in hope holds the door open, and it takes a working faith to maintain that space.
Isn’t that what we’re doing in Advent? Isn’t that what 14-year-old Mary did when she was told she would bear a Savior? I can imagine her sighing a great but holy “Whatever,” putting it in God’s hands. Advent: for four weeks we try to clear away the detritus of what has certainly been a messy year. We sweep the threshold and prepare a space for God’s gifts, any and all of them. It may or may not hold miracles, but God shows up. In my space, I look to Jesus to bear those gifts.
P.S. I have witnessed at least one miracle in my life. My daughter is well.