Hope Floats Us All
Day 39 – Palm Sunday*
I remember reading a biography of a military strategist. “The outcome [of a particular military campaign] was inevitable. There was no hope at all of a victory.” I stopped and reread the previous several pages because I thought I must have missed something. I had expected this man to be on the side that ultimately won but here he was saying that this major battle was doomed for failure. I actually reread the pages three times and finally on the fourth time, read them aloud. I had missed nothing and so I continued forward. Then I read the last sentence of the chapter. “Fortunately, the leaders were better at encouraging their men then in military rational. They had hope and their hope won the battle, a battle that, on paper, was never theirs to win. Hope that day was the best strategy.”
As I remarked yesterday, I do not presume to know what was in the speaker’s mind when he uttered the words we now call the Beatitudes. I do think their purpose and his intention was to offer hope. The goodness offered within the text speaks of the expectation of not great times but also the optimism those times can ultimately create.
Hope is not the same as optimism. Optimism is a feeling that sees the good and its approach is quite positive. Hope is an emotion that often arises in the midst of turmoil, of despair, of grief. Hope is a choice. We can choose fear or we can choose hope.
Barbara Fredrickson describes hope this way. “Hope literally opens us up. It removes the blinders of fear and despair and allows us to see the big picture. We become creative, unleashing our dreams for the future. This is because deep within the core of hope is the belief that things can change. No matter how awful or uncertain they are at the moment, things can turn out for the better. Possibilities exist. Belief in this better future sustains us. It keeps us from collapsing in despair. It infuses our bodies with the healing rhythms of positivity. It motivates us to tap into our signature capabilities and inventiveness to turn things around. It inspires us to build a better future.”
Psychologist C. S. Snyder, in his book “The Psychology of Hope: You Can Get There from Here” defined hope as a “motivational construct” that allows one to believe in positive outcomes, conceive of goals, develop strategies, and muster the motivation to implement them. While not actively studied until the last twentieth century, it has become apparent that we need hope not only in times of chaos and turmoil but all the time.
I believe the Beatitudes to be a commentary of life. We all will face despair, grief, will feel meek, will hunger and thirst for righteousness. We also, hopefully, will strive to be peacemakers, be merciful, and pure in heart. At some point in our lives, we all feel the thorns of persecution. Hope is the antidote to all of those negative feelings and the motivation for the positive ones. Perhaps poet Emily Dickinson describes it best: “Hope is the thing with feathers; that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all.”
*In case you are wondering how Lent can have forty days and Palm Sunday means there are still seven days left in Lent, yet I am at day 39…. In this counting, because many readers are of different faiths, I count each day straightforward. In the “forty” days of Lent, Sundays are not included in the count.