It seems odd to be thinking about hope when all the leaves are falling; driving back today from Shaw the roads and lawns were just carpeted with leaves -- mostly yellow, as all the big-leaf maples decided to turn this week.
But I just finished reading what I think may be one of the finest books of fiction I've read in a REALLY long time, Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog, and one of the protagonists thinks we really do ourselves a disservice by hoping. She's only 12, but she thinks we should stop encouraging our children to pursue possibility, and just tell them up front they'll never amount to much.
She bases this thought on the fact that so many of the grownups she knows are too busy trying to prove how important they are to actually get down to the business of living, let alone living well. Perhaps, she thinks, they might be more present if they could just stop trying so hard...
And she got me thinking. I mean, yes, I do what I do -- photography and blogging and meditating -- because I love it. But there's some part of me that always thinks I should do more, or sell it better, or wonders what else I could be doing, or how I could be doing it differently -- always (I suspect, though of course I would prefer not to admit it) in hopes of broader recognition. And there's that hope word again. It feels like things have gotten off-track, somehow.
So I decided to go back to Cynthia Bourgeault's little miracle of a book, Mystical Hope. And thankfully she redefines hope, taking me back to a better place, a place where I can honor those hopeful feelings I have without tying them to success or recognition.
"Jesus hints at this other kind of hope in his dialogue with the Samaritan woman... The day is hot, and Jesus pauses by a well to ask a woman for a drink of water... he suddenly announces, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I will give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life...
In contrast to our usual notions of hope [she continues]:
1. Mystical hope is not tied to a good outcome, to the future. It lives a life of its own, seemingly without reference to external circumstances and conditions.
2. It has something to do with presence -- not a future good outcome, but the immediate experience of being met, held in communion, by something intimately at hand.
3. It bears fruit within us at the psychological level in the sensations of strength, joy, and satisfaction, an "unbearable lightness of being." Bu mysteriously, rather than deriving these gifts from outward expectations being met, it seems to produce them from within."
It's not wrong to hope. It's just not especially helpful to let those hopeful thoughts get all tangled up with external possibilities. It's a bit like the difference between the kind of passion that's filled with drama and emotion and angst and the kind of passion that burns pure and inspires creativity and acts of compassion and sacrifice. The line between the two can get pretty thin sometimes. But the right stuff is this kind of joyful surge from within, a sort of waterfall of rightness and light that can wash over you and carry you through, so that even when life is really difficult you can still find it in you to smile, to love, to be generous and gracious...
That's the mystical kind of hope. Maybe they call it mystical because it doesn't necessarily make a lot of sense.
But it's good stuff. I need to get back into that space.