We turn again to Eddie Gilmore of the Irish Chaplaincy. We are at the end of Lent, and hopefully – say it again, hope-fully – we are nearing the end of a much longer period of penitential living, as the vaccines begin to push the covid virus into the margins.
“Hope is an essential part of being human.”
So said Bishop Richard Harries in a recent ‘Thought for the Day’ and he cited an example of Allied prisoners in the second world war. Those who had something to look forward to, he explained, perhaps a wife and children to eventually return home to, were more likely to survive long years in captivity than those who didn’t.
Many of us will be looking forward to a variety of things, and it can be a way of getting through a challenging current reality. We might be looking forward to being able to meet up with friends and family again, to sharing physical touch, to singing in choirs, to attending live events. Many parents will, I’m sure, have been looking forward to the schools reopening! All of my children are dreaming of going travelling, and I must say that I’m quite keen to jump on a train or plane again too! After the long cold winter we might be looking forward to the coming of warmer weather, and perhaps even fantasising about lying on a tropical beach somewhere! Any beach would do me at the moment, tropical or not. In the Church’s year we may put up with a little self-imposed hardship during Lent, in the knowledge that the great feast of Easter will follow, and we’ll be able to stuff ourselves with chocolate again! The bible is filled with references to hope, often expressed in times of adversity, such as in Isaiah 40: “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength, they put out wings like eagles, they run and do not grow weary.” In Jeremiah 29 we hear of God promising those exiled from Jerusalem to Babylon, “a future full of hope.” And we are assured in Psalm 9 that, “The hope of the poor is never brought to nothing.”
We need to be careful that in our looking forward we do forget to receive whatever is given in the present moment. I’m sure I’m not alone in spending much of my waking time alternately dwelling on the past or either worrying about or anticipating the future, and missing therefore what’s right in front of my nose. When the Indian Jesuit Anthony de Mello was asked if he believed in life after death he replied, “I believe in life before death.”
During my interview for the Chaplaincy at the end of 2016, I ended my presentation to the panel with the words: ‘Irish Chaplaincy…Looking Ahead with Hope’. I’m not quite sure where those words came from but they seemed to strike a chord and they duly appeared in bold letters on the homepage of our new website. In looking for a name for our upcoming fundraising walks in April we decided on the name ‘Walk with Hope.’
Bishop Harries quotes a line by the poet R.S. Thomas, having noted that much of his poetry could be quite bleak. Thomas apparently wandered into a Welsh village one day and was suddenly filled with an overwhelming sense that, “There is everything to look forward to”.
Harries concludes with a suggestion of how we are to live in the day ahead, the hour ahead: “In the present, but with hope.”