Much as I love the testimonies that begin to describe the Quaker experience, I think the most compelling attribute I appreciate about Friends is our sense of hope. At least when we are at our best, hope permeates our work and witness.
Just as his life was about to circle the drain one last time, George Fox found hope in the living presence of Jesus and was forever changed. Since that day, Friends have continued to experience and express hope in so many different ways. Hope is seen in the expectation we bring to worship, as we make room for Christ to show up in our midst to teach us. In the same vein, we practice the hopeful work of discernment, demonstrating our confident trust that God is actually able and willing to lead us if we will listen. Radical hope is expressed in our convictions about nonviolence. Who trusts the power of love to vanquish evil and violence in a world armed and ready to fight? As far as I can see, only the very, very hopeful!
But hope isn’t something we can hold in our hands. Instead, I would suggest, that it is always out in front of us, just beyond arms length. It is a mystery that draws us, calling to us until we move to meet it. Hope is a verb — the expression of faith-in-action — and is really only experienced in our continued pursuit of it.
It is this place of movement, however, where hope is also most vulnerable. Without a continual willingness to move toward what we anticipate, hope can quickly fade. Only a few years ago, much of the world was abuzz about the possibility of “hope and change.” High expectations were circulating and anticipation was building for significant transformation in the U.S. and across the world. Change, however, did not occur in as sweeping or as easy a way as many wanted. Resistance to change — even good and agreed-upon change — is often much more fierce and relentless than we expect. Other factors, many completely outside our control, may complicate the process of change. Without something sturdier than emotion to propel us, it becomes awfully easy for hope to slip away and even die.
Lost or fading hope tends to breed cynicism, sarcasm and despair. We have a lot of that in our world and it easily creeps into the life of faith if we are not careful. Recovering cynics like me are especially at risk and our presence in the community can be lethal to others. Communities need people who are grounded in hope, who continue to invite us toward Christ and his kingdom even, or maybe especially, when challenges arise.
I’ve been struck recently by two phrases in scripture around hope. One emerges from Zechariah the prophet, who calls the people of God “prisoners of hope.” Despite their captivity, poverty, lack of religious freedom and constant threat of military conflict, he pictured them as prisoners of hope. Not prisoners to despair or fear, but as people imprisoned by the knowledge of God being for them and by the messianic hope in which the broken world is being set right. I see so many ways in which this phrase aptly describes Friends in our history. I wonder how or if it does today?
The other phrase springs from Hebrews 10, where Jesus’ followers are called to an “unswerving hope.” I love the image of moving forward through the inevitable blocks and barriers that arise. It evokes a sense of persevering through inevitable difficulty and discouragement. It is faithful discipleship for the long haul, and the self-awareness that God’s glorious intent is brought about in time and space by a people who practice hope one step at a time.
In my travels among Friends, it is easy to detect meetings and churches which have hope. I see it and hear it practiced in many ways. It shows up in your expectant worship, in the way you engage your communities, in your willingness to look toward the future, in the way you invest your time and treasure in one another, in your children, in the world. I confess I have run across a few communities, too, where hope seems to be fading fast. I wonder in those cases, how hope might be restored?
How do you see hope in your meeting or church? Are you moving toward it together? When others look at your life together, do you imagine they catch a glimmer of hope, as well?