Practicing Hope

I’ve recently written about two people who were mentors for me, Sherry Hutchison and Don Laughlin. And that has led me to pray and wonder about what I have done, and might yet do, that could be a good influence for others. Don’t we all aspire to be mentors?

As a Quaker and person of faith I believe that God continues to be present in the world today. As a scientist, it is looking like we are on the path to runaway global heating which humans might not survive. Perhaps there will yet be some miracle from God to avoid this, or perhaps that is not God’s plan.

What I ask myself, and pray about now is how we can slow down the damage for the sake of our children. I still wonder why we refused to make choices fifty years ago that would have avoided this environmental catastrophe. I fear that same refusal might keep us from grappling with this now.

Is there hope today, and what does that look like?

I came across the following blog post that taught me something about hope. I include the highlighted part of this quotation in my email signature. We should practice hope, and help others learn to practice hope so we can face hard truths, not only about environmental destruction, but so many other things as indicated below.

People often mistake hope for a feeling, but it’s not. It’s a mental discipline, an attentional practice that you can learn. Like any such discipline, it’s work that takes time, which you fail at, succeed, improve, fail at again, and build over years inside yourself.

Hope isn’t just looking at the positive things in this world, or expecting the best. That’s a fragile kind of cheerfulness, something that breaks under the weight of a normal human life. To practice hope is to face hard truths, harder truths than you can face without the practice of hope. You can’t navigate dark places without a light, and hope is that light for humanity’s dark places. Hope lets you study environmental destruction, war, genocide, exploitative relations between peoples. It lets you look into the darkest parts of human history, and even the callous entropy of a universe hell bent on heat death no matter what we do. When you are disciplined in hope, you can face these things because you have learned to put them in context, you have learned to swallow joy and grief together, and wait for peace.


Lately, I keep coming back the question, “are we really listening for that still small voice during our prayers, and meeting for worship? Do we practice hope?” Or do we force what we hear to conform to our current worldview? Do we do a sort of reinterpretation of what we hear? If we heard “give up all your possessions”, would we do so?

Because so often I find people don’t seem to be able to “think outside the box.” For example, when I say we have to stop using personal automobiles, people say “but we have to have a car so we can…”

I have become unsettled lately regarding what my next steps should be. Care for Mother Earth has been the consistent thread of my life. Looking back over the past 40 years I wonder what more I could have done to convince others we had to stop using fossil fuels. It is unnerving now to see the consequences I knew would result are coming into being–the ferocious wildfires in California, massive flooding of the Missouri River, the loss of ice and melting permafrost in the Arctic, the death of sea life as the oceans warm and become acidified, and powerful hurricanes like Dorian. It is scary to have an idea of what the future will look like if significant changes aren’t made immediately.

In addition to defining hope in terms of desire, expectation, and fulfillment, most dictionaries provide a secondary, archaic definition based on faith. This older and much less common meaning is about trusting life, without the expectation of attaining particular outcomes any time soon. This type of hope has a quiet but unshakeable faith in whatever happens and in the human capacity to respond to it constructively. It is a positive, but not necessarily optimistic, attitude to life that does not depend on external conditions or circumstances.

I call this “intrinsic hope” because it comes from deep inside us. Václav Havel, former president of Czechoslovakia, said in Disturbing the Peace that hope “is a dimension of the soul, and it’s not essentially dependent on some particular observation of the world or estimate of the situation.… It is an orientation of the spirit, and orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons.” To me, intrinsic hope is also that of God in everyone; the inner light; the quiet, still voice; and the experience of the Great Mystery.

Intrinsic hope says yes to whatever happens—whether we like it or not—because if we lose hope and give up, then all the gloomy predictions about the future will become a reality. And if we dwell on our extrinsic hopes, we will continue to feel sadness, despair, and anger whenever life does not give us what we want. But if we can live from intrinsic hope, we will be able to stay positive and engaged even in the darkest of times. And in doing so, we can influence whether there will be a viable future for our children, their children, and all future generations of life on earth.

A Quaker Perspective on Hope By Kate Davies, Friends Journal, September 1, 2018

Our country is primed for an overthrow of power within rapidly shifting currents. The land has seen devastation over the winter’s long night, but now sings songs of rebirth inside the blossoms of the cherry tree. At least in this hemisphere. The people…well, we’re all a little worn out thanks to a heavy hitting astrological and planetary realignment. Does anyone else feel like they’ve hardly had a moment to process and catch a breath before Mercury went Gatorade? Again? We’re being tested. Within each survivor is a warrior. Can we captain this ship through unknown waters? Are we braver than our fears? Will we earn a seat at the table, our place as a future ancestor? Oh, hell yes.

Nahko Bear

Naho Bear is an Indigenous song writer, musician and performer, who often shares words of wisdom between songs at his concerts. I’m just realizing he has also become a mentor to me. The Youth Concert below occurred just a few days after praying men, women and children at Standing Rock were attacked by security forces dogs. Some of what he said to those youth that night follows:

Remember that nonviolent direct action is the way to a successful revolution. And that is a hard one, because they are so bad (chuckles). When they come at us you just want to hit ’em, you know? Just sit with that. I know it’s tough. They’re going to try to do everything they can to instigate you.

But remember what we’re here for. We’re here to create peace for our Mother. We’re not here to create more violence.

When you’re feeling bad, when you’re feeling frustrated, put all your prayer into your palms, put them to the ground, put them back to the sky, honor the Father, the Mother, just know it will be alright.

Are you guys feeling proud, are you proud of yourselves? Because the whole world is watching. The whole world is watching. So whatcha gonna do? Gonna show love? Are you gonna be smart? You gonna think before you act? Take care of each other? You’re gonna show ‘em what family does. They don’t know what that’s like.

You gotta put down the weight, gotta get out of your way. Get out of your way and just look around the corner at your real self and look at all the potential that this beautiful Earth and love has to offer you.

Nahko Bear at the Water Protectors Youth Concert

Besides my faith, my mentors, my F/friends, it is the spiritual example of Nahko and these youth that give me hope. It is the example of people like Sherry Hutchison, Don Laughlin, my friends from the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March and others that helps me face hard truths, to practice hope, today.

Nahko Bear at Water Protectors Youth Concert
#NODAPL   #MniWiconi #RezpectOurWater #AllNationsYouth
This entry was posted in #NDAPL, civil disobedience, climate change, First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March, Quaker, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s