There is a close connection between hope and hopes, but we must not confuse the two. We set our hopes on something we can imagine. But hope is open for the unimaginable.Br. David Steindl-Rast
In the powerful lines above, Br. David offers an important distinction between the individual hopes we carry and hope as an orientation to life, a way of being open to what we can’t yet envision. What a powerful invitation to open ourselves to life’s mystery — and what a challenge! Toward the end of the same passage, Br. David concludes: “Hope is openness for surprise.”
We all have hopes for our own lives and those we love. These are important, as they inform the choices we make, the pathways we follow. Cultivating an openness to surprise and mystery does not mean letting go of the unique hopes and dreams that make us who we are, but it does allow greater space for possibility to come alive. This is the heart of hope.
Day Three: Opening to Life’s Mystery
Today’s practice is an invitation to cultivate hope as an orientation to life by opening ourselves to surprise and wonder. When we’re able to get more comfortable with uncertainty — with not knowing — we allow for the possibility that life will offer something we’re not yet able to envision. Rather than hoping for a particular thing or outcome, we open ourselves to what we cannot yet know; we learn to befriend mystery.
Looking back across the decades of our lives can serve as a tangible reminder of all the meaningful things that are currently true that most of us never could have imagined — medical innovations that bring ease and healing, technology that allows communication and connection, efforts to cultivate peace that have brought down walls and entire regimes. Do things always progress in a steadily-positive direction? We know, sadly, that they don’t; there’s an ebb and flow to our progress. But naming these unexpected and unimaginable blessings of life is a powerful reminder to trust that such surprises and wonders are often just beyond the horizon.
- As you reflect on your own life, what is one significant event or development that enhanced your sense of what is possible?
- How might this one experience serve as a touchstone to help you open your mind and heart to the reality that there are solutions, creations, and possibilities that you can’t yet envision?
- Is there a particular issue in your life, or even a sense of hopelessness about something, that would benefit from opening to the opportunities of mystery and, in so doing, open the door to hope?
- Is there a way to more fully and actively appreciate the aspects of your life that would have been only a far-fetched hope a decade or two ago? How does such conscious acknowledgment and thanks allow you to better nurture and believe in the hope you currently have?
We invite you to share your reflection below.
In this beautiful poem, Joy Harjo begins with the invitation to open ourselves to all that is, including that which we cannot hear or see. Hope is not named explicitly in the poem but lives as an invitation between the lines. What is the circle of motion in your own life, the practice — like that of the eagle in the poem, that makes space for the unknown, for mystery?
Photo Credit: Dejan Zakic
Enjoy the full five-day Hope practice.
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Okay, I think I might be getting this.
Up to this point, I’ve been struggling
with “hope”. I guess I’m still climbing
out of the pit of negativity that I have
dug for myself. I wasn’t able to identify hope without
adding some pessimism to it.
Like a little fish latching onto a bigger fish.
Thinking about a transformative experience in my life,
is helping me to envision hope as an orientation and a possibility. And yes, looking back,
I can see how so many things have turned out
more amazing than I could have imagined.
These readings have subtly changed how I view my surroundings ….so much to revel in, be grateful for, wish to share. I did not hope for or expect that….thank you!
Brother David’s quotation answers the question I had yesterday about hope. Yes, there is a difference between hopes for things we can imagine and hope as a stance for facing life. I might even say, hopefulness is a quality like gratefulness. They go together.
One event in my life was meeting my partner in 1990. It was unexpected, and it opened so many opportunities that I had never even considered. We are still together today.
My daughter’s early teen years were a challenge to the family unit as she spiralled into anorexia, self harm and eventually an overdose. When we brought her home from hospital we were broken and afraid. Afraid for the present and afraid for the future. I thought her path was set on destruction and that our lives would be spent supporting her through this on repeat. I found it hard to envisage her future as anything but troubled. However, she’s now a beautiful young woman in her mid 20s, she has a wonderful boyfriend, they have been together since she was 16 and they are both hardworking and successful adults building a life together. They bought a sweet little house last year and are very happy together. I’m so proud of them both.Sadly, while we were wrapped up in supporting her recovery her younger sibling had been deeply traumatised by all that had happened and we failed to notice quite how badly because for a few years he carried on almost normally but then gradually started to opt out of life outside the family home. He’s now in his early twenties and never leaves the house, he’s a reclusive hermit. I feel hopeless about his future because he refuses all efforts to help and support him from family, friends and outside professionals. I need to hold onto the miracle of our daughter turning her life around as proof that things can change for the better even when things appear to be so bleak and unchangeable.
Thank you for this very moving and powerful sharing. I’m holding your family story with great tenderness, and I join you in hoping that your son, too, will find his pathway. Heartfelt compassion and care to you as you care for your beloved family.
I was able to come up with several developments in my life that would not have previously seemed possible. After looking at hope as an openness to possibility, I can see the value of opening to hope in my daily life. I can also look at hope as what I have been missing in my life. Without realizing it, I had become a bit of a pessimist. No wonder I have been having trouble finding joy in my life. I am ready to think in terms of possibilities that I would not have considered to be realistic.
I have some old armor to drop. Not expecting wonderful things to happen has not been protecting me from disappointment. It’s been a trap.
I am excited about looking at my life with hope and openness!🥰
My mentor use to say, “Carol, deal with this situation/decision and see what God has in store for you next.”
The hope Br. David speaks of can’t be embrace without trust which is my favorite definition for faith. I often say and mean, “Life is trustworthy” and have found that once I embraced that perspective, I learned to trust myself.
I’m definitely in the winter of my life so I’m very thankful to Be Here Now. Lots of losses that prevent me from doing many things that I took for granted but I do not dwell on them. I dwell on what I can do and know I’m blessed.
Life invites me to live each day, each moment I’m given and I do my best to say, “Yes.”
I couldn’t log in !! just happy to be able to do that now.. love love the idea of being open to hope meaning we don’t know what could happen and I cannot be reminded of this enough. I so struggle with uncertainty and loss and the unknown so I thank you for this writing and i need to go on and read,,,just wanted to check in and add my voice!
Yay that you are here and able to reply Val!! Our person who is a tech magician is out all this week on vacation and so I am very happy you were able to join in on your own! Nice work.
Welcome, Val. I’m glad you finally made it! 🙂
The words that touched me were in one of the questions: How might this one experience serve as a touchstone to help you open your mind and heart to the reality that there are solutions, creations, and possibilities that you can’t yet envision?
Many now often feel hopeless about the future of the planet and the future if democracy in US. Perhaps there are “solutions, creations, and possibilities” that may help solve the problems we face. Saying it seems to bring hope. But they are hopes too maybe. I hope I am not missing the difference.
Joy Harjo’s poem reminds me of another great poem entitled “Santiago,” by David Whyte, which you can find on the Gratefulness.org site here: https://gratefulness.org/resource/santiago/. During the pandemic, I was privileged to participate in one of David Whyte’s online sessions in which he discussed Santiago. I wrote down the following statement that David made after reading the poem. I find it relates to today’s exercise: “Wouldn’t it be great to have the same mercy about your own life? Instead of trying to be this Olympic, gold medal-winning spiritual athlete who knows where they are going all the time, that you could actually appreciate the beauty of your life disappearing for a while and not knowing exactly where it’s going to reappear again, and actually how gorgeous that is. And that if you knew where it was going to appear, you might not actually follow the path. Now there’s a mercy to things being hidden from you until you’re actually ready for them.”
Thanks for this reminder about the poem, “Santiago” which was a moving session when discussed with author, David Whyte. His words resonate with the reality of my life with myriad twists and turns ups and downs.
His opening lines shout: “The road seen, then not seen, the hillside
hiding then revealing the way you should take,
the road dropping away from you as if leaving you
to walk on thin air, then catching you, holding you up,
when you thought you would fall…”
More times than I could count are those times when I felt the road disappear, seemingly left walking on air, then catching and holding me up when I thought I was doomed. Now my aged wisdom knows that all along I was carried by the Good Shepherd to greener, peaceful pastures.
Somehow those times like detours put me on interesting paths.
Thank you for this Chris. I resonated with what you wrote which led me to read aloud David Whyte’s poem Beyond Santiago (in his book Still Possible).
Indeed, have mercy about our own lives.
I like Br. David’s distinction between Hope and Hopes – and I liked reading Joy Harjo’s poem aloud. Here’s my hope quote for today: “It is in collectivities that we find reservoirs of hope and optimism. ANGELA DAVIS” – and here we are in our ‘collectivity’ 🙂
Yes we are, Mica! 🤗
I like the part that says “we pray that it will be done in beauty” . I read this, the sense of hope oozes in me. There is the element of trust that life is beautiful and one really needs to have the faith and trust. Life, my former spiritual director used to tell me, “ is God in DISGUISE”.
Nodelyn, I can relate to your spiritual director!
What a great piece of wisdom that I, for one, am hard-pressed to remember but am grateful to you, Nodelyn, for reminding me: “Life is God in DISGUISE.”
To pray you open your whole self
To sky, to earth, to sun, to moon
These two simple sentences resonates with me. I love praying and enjoy the quietness and calmness that comes with praying. Being in that moment, opening my heart and feeling the warmth that comes from cleaning oneself of negative emotions.
One of my favorite moments is after a good rain, the trees are clean, the air is fresh and cool. You know that life is going to be okay. I don’t know how or why but in those moment I always have a sense of well being and happiness. Needless to say I love fall!
In the summer of my second year in law school in 1967, I did civil rights work for thirteen weeks in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I worked for Murphy Bell, a black attorney with a wife, two children, and a successful law practice, who risked it all to file civil rights lawsuits. The Klan burned crosses on his lawn. Inspired by Murphy, I devoted the rest of my life and career to trying to make the world a better, more just, more peaceful place.
Thank you for what you do. Seeing the politics of the moment helps me see more clearly what it takes to actually be brave.
That’s wonderful, Peter! Thanks for sharing 🙂
such a beautiful poem. also the reminder that life IS a mystery is in itself hopeful to me today. i don’t have to have all the answers immediately, i can sit with the mystery. what a relief.
Never dreamed that I could live independently, make my own choices, and do what I wanted to do. Now I’m here in this place. My wildest dreams have come true. I’m so grateful for the journey. And the awareness.