On my first-ever trip to Scotland in the summer of 1986, the weather was abysmal. It was sunless and dank. The sky resembled wet cement and felt just as heavy overhead. I remember shivering incessantly and thinking, No wonder the Scottish diaspora has always been so large.
Then one day, up in the Highlands, I happened to gaze heavenward and saw — like a miracle of biblical proportions — the seemingly impenetrable gray clouds break apart, revealing a flag-size patch of pristine blue.
“That,” I said to one of my traveling companions, pointing to the patch, “is the color of hope!”
Here and now, in the month of December in the central mountains of Mexico, where the daytime temperatures hover in the mid-70s (F.), and the sky is one solid swath of glorious, cloudless, vivid-blue blue, I can see from this distance the same color of hope.
(Perhaps one of the requisites for finding hope is looking up?)
This Sunday I’ll be lighting the second of four Advent candles at the Community Church of San Miguel, an interdenominational Protestant church, which I’ve recently begun attending here. This second candle represents hope, I was told, whereas the other three signify peace, joy, and love.
(Why was I, a newcomer, asked to do this? I’ve been wondering. And why was I given “hope”?)
As a result, the abstract concept of hope has been on my mind this week.
First, I had to ask myself, What is it, really? And do I have it?
Hope, as a noun, is defined as “an optimistic state of mind that is based on an expectation of positive outcomes with respect to events and circumstances in one’s life or the world at large.”
Perhaps I’ve been watching too much CNN, or maybe I’m just too much of a flat-footed realist by nature, but I haven’t been in a particularly optimistic state of mind for most of this year. And “positive outcomes”? Well, that’s always a coin-toss, in my opinion.
Despite Emily Dickinson’s uplifting poem that has been rattling around in my head since high school English class —
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all –
I’ve been having trouble automatically hearing that never-ending “tune without the words.”
For me, it takes some effort to refill my hope tank, like having to blow up the same tired old balloon every day because it has a slow, pin-hole leak.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is said to have said, “We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope.” These sorts of quotes from much-wiser-than-I men and women also help me refill my hope tank daily.
And another king, King David of the Old Testament, whom I’ve always imagined as tall, strong, broad-shouldered, barrel-chested, supremely handsome and powerful, continues to be an immense inspiration to me. I read his Psalms, his praise and pleas to God, every morning.
He approaches God humbly, calling himself “poor” and “needy.” (I can so identify.) He grapples: “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted in me? Hope thou in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance” (Psalm 42:5).
As David uses it, “hope” is a verb, an active verb, unlike the more passive, wishy-washy “wish.” (There was nothing wishy-washy about King David.)
(That’s it! Hope is something I must DO!)
That’s why I was chosen to light the hope candle, I now realize. And I suspect – well, I hope — that that candle will be sky blue.