3.10.2010

The pattern of hope

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. - Romans 5:1-5 NRSV


When faced with suffering, I am likely to focus on hope -- or my lack thereof. In rough moments I tend to fan the small embers of hope in my soul, or lament the lack of a spark. St. Paul wisely describes the lighting of hope's fire as a longer and less direct process.

Hope cannot be born out of a difficult circumstance, but out of character, our ingrained pattern of responding to trouble and suffering (and joy and success, as well). This is not an instant reaction, and in fact if we are reactive we will likely not experience hope, but fear and longing. Our character is shaped slowly, like clay being formed into a jar by the steady hands of a potter applying pressure gradually while the clay spins on the wheel. To continue the analogy, the pressure is applied externally, through the impact of unmerited graces or the weight of unwanted suffering. As Richard Rohr says, our natural, human resistance to change means that most transformation comes through external events.

Hope is not just the anticipation of a bloom in spring; it, itself, takes a long time to germinate.

So I can boast of this long period of waiting and hurting, not in the sense of "Hey, look at me, I'm suffering" but in the knowledge (and hope) that God is planting in this seemingly barren soil, which is really quite fertile.

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