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|December 2, 2003||
Vol. 1, No. 160
'Hope is the thing with feathers'
By Pat Marrin, editor of Celebration
Today's Reading: Isaiah 11:1: A shoot will sprout from the stump of Jesse, from his roots a bud shall blossom.
"Hope is the thing with feathers," Emily Dickinson reminded us.
"Despite the facts," someone a bit more hard-edged once said, "we are still hopeful." The prophet Isaiah witnessed what appeared to be the collapse of God's promise to protect his people from destruction. Yet, even as the prophet pondered the fallen tree, he saw renewal sprout from the severed stump. Below ground, the roots of the promise were firm and deep. Keep hope alive, he urged a broken, dispirited people heading into exile.
There is an apocalyptic tone to Advent. For the future to come, the present needs to get out of the way. Breakthrough entails breakdown, especially when needed change has been blocked, stalled, resisted. Hope is the energy that opens doors, pushes ahead in spite of resistance. Hope tells us where the energy of time and history is going, how to let go of things that don't work any more and go there, regroup.
Advent invites me to renew my hope in many small personal things I still have some control over, but also in big things that overwhelm me. I am speaking of the church and my country. Allow me to state my hopes here briefly. I believe that to say things out loud is a necessary stage on the way to imagining a future that is not fully visible, though hope tells me, is very real and on its way.
The recovery of the liturgical life of the primitive church, a renewed understanding of sacraments as active encounters with God through Jesus Christ, a recapturing of the gospel of divine life, the centrality of baptism and the recognition of the dignity and charismatic empowerment of every member of the church - all of this flowed into the new ecclesiology.
As the late Fr. Godfrey Diekmann often said, "This was the work of the Holy Spirit." And despite foot dragging by those who, in a friend's description, move about confidently like civil war re-enactors, and despite what may be a very long "last hurrah," by restorationists in high places, the substructures of the renewal are in place, unstoppable, the only future God is offering us. I rejoice in this thing with feathers called the Holy Spirit.
My country: at home
At home, we are allowing a new infrastructure to take root that will open the door to domestic surveillance and preemptive powers against political opponents, minority religions and certain ethnic communities, peace and justice activists and the alternative press. The national security state of the 1950s is now the post 9-11-01 homeland security state.
I recently sat in the lobby of local hotel where recruitment interviews were being conducted for applicants for the thousands of new jobs created by this new federal agency. I saw the best and the brightest, young people I might have had in my college classes, lining up to be hired to do the data sweeps and intelligence filters that are now profiling every one of us in intimate detail. I promise I will be boring enough to escape notice, but how many others will be harassed for their legitimate public opposition to government policy?
My country: abroad
Years ago, in a memorable and chilling conversation with a wise old Dominican priest, I was reminded that people can always escape judgment into mercy because of a loving God who has all eternity to work with us. But nations exist only in time and therefore are subject to the laws of history, one of which is that we reap what we sow. What we set in motion will come back upon us, even if the arc is wide and the return is slow. Nations are punished for their misdeeds in history.
The function of the prophet is to give warning, because turning aside can mitigate or divert some bad karma, as was the case with mythical Nineveh when Jonah preached repentance. We will someday build monuments to the prophets who are now warning us to change course. We have already seen the power for good in past prophets like Martin Luther King Jr., who risked everything to stand in the path of the violence going out from us and circling back upon us.
Because I have hope, I will work to create the future I believe must come. The essence of hope is that even failure and postponement cannot prevent this future. Dorothy Day once said that, in the end, beauty will conquer the world. I am nourished by her example, her hard work, her willingness to endure the long loneliness that leads to love in community in the worst of times. I hear hope whispering in the flutter of wings. Something wonderful is about to happen, and it has feathers.
Pat Marrin's e-mail addres is email@example.com. Celebration, NCR's sister publication, is an ecumenical worship resource. For a preview, follow this link: Celebration.
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