Friday, January 26, 2018

Hope vs. Optimism

Dear Friends,

The January 15 issue of TIME magazine bid readers to have an optimistic view of the world. Guest editor Bill Gates wrote that, using 1990 as a benchmark year, the world has experienced less childhood death, less poverty, more legal rights, greater political power for women, less sexual assault of women and a full 90% of children attending primary school. In so many ways, optimists point the way to the good things that happen that are passed over by news reports which focus on the dire and dreadful.

But real or perceived personal or societal bad news happens. How are we in the face of bad news? Does it destroy us? Bring us low? Are we optimistic? Do we have hope?

Both optimism and hope are human responses to life’s challenges, but they are not the same. The optimist holds that the way forward is possible when people do their best together. Hope goes through defeat and death to resurrection. Hope is rooted in God. Optimism is not.

Hope reaches for meaning and value in life. If we have the will to live and grow and become despite all the forces to the contrary, we live in hope, with God as our companion. Moreover, hope has to do with the big picture: life today, tomorrow and life everlasting. That’s how Saint Joseph thought as he contemplated his pregnant wife. “Before closed doors and his own empty hands, Joseph turned to hope: hope that finds a way when there is none” (Sr. M. Madeleva, csj). God is in the hopeful person. One cannot have hope without believing in God. And to hope for one self is to hope for all.

When I think of hope shattered and destroyed, I think of the widow that Jesus stops in the
Streets of Naim as she follows the casket of her dead son (Luke 7. 11-17). Her widowhood brought the pain of being marginalized in her society. The loss of an only son, her last surviving link to the past, would have deepened that misery because it changed her future. When Jesus raised her son from the dead, God had done the improbable and unexpected. His miracle was not just a wondrous happening. It was wondrous happening which restored hope to someone whose life had been shattered. God is in the hopeful person.

Like the Widow of Naim, you and I have mourned our dead. Not just our dead loved ones, but our lives that have appeared dead through loss, pain and upheaval. How do we react when one day we wake up feeling good again, when the laughter of children or the buzz of life is balm for our soul, when things begin to fall into place again and a tentative peace is budding again in our world? Have we recognized these revivified moments as God gift through the hope we bear? Do we embrace hope and go on?

Hope does not exist in the abstract. It is embodied in people and in communities, in the DACA cohort, the Rohinga who fled to Bangladesh and the Mapuche of Chile. Their lives have changed from the security of the routine and the commonplace to the strange and unfamiliar or even simply the new. Yet in the new and unfamiliar, if hope is in them, they find new direction, unity and new life through the God they know in some way.

The hopeful person knows God is with them, through thick and thin, no matter what the optimists or the pessimists say.

~Sister Joan Sobala