Sustaining Hope: Hope, a Feathered Thing

April 24, 2022

For whatever was written previously was written for our instruction, that by endurance and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. Romans 15:4 (NAB)

It feels like I’ve been waiting a long time for more light and warmer days to chase away damp, late winter gray. Life has gone on in fits and starts since my mother’s death in the fall. I returned home and to work in the new year with plenty to do. Projects, dishes, and laundry pile up, get tackled, cleaned and put away, and pile up all over again. Many days I talk myself out of bed. Some days I can also talk myself into a walk in the park. World events and weather forecasts periodically penetrate a chilly fog that surrounds me. I strain to glimpse hope.

From the beginnings of salvation history we read in scripture that God provides signs of hope after devastating loss, like the dove returning to Noah with an olive branch in her mouth, evidence of land reemerging after the great flood. I find that returning to memories of other losses “written previously” into my history helps locate hope.

I recently revisited one such memory from 2007, the year I was accompanying a close friend who was dying. On my annual retreat that fall (guided by Sr. Joyce Rupp’s book, Dear Heart, Come Home) I came upon Emily Dickinson’s poem personifying Hope

 

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all –

 

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –

And sore must be the storm –

That could abash the little Bird

That kept so many warm –

 

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –

And on the strangest Sea –

Yet – never – in Extremity,

It asked a crumb – of me.

 

Something about Emily’s experience unsettled me. She could hear Hope’s sweet song “in the chillest land.” I only heard the gale roar. I got out watercolors to help explore my reactions. Sitting with my painting an insight began to emerge. I penned a stormy response to Emily:

 

Hope may be a feathered thing,

But absent from my soul,

I cannot hear the wordless tune;

Despair is taking hold.

 

Chill sea winds gust and wail

Battering the bird.

Her frantic wings beat tiredly,

But mission flies onward.

 

I see not the slim green sign

Grasped firmly in her beak,

A promise that there yet is land

And why she cannot speak.

I realized the little feathered thing, though still out of sight, was making her way to me with a sign of life. Hope couldn’t sing with her beak clenched to the branch. Tiny Hope stirred my heart then, and does again now. “Hope,” Sr. Joyce wrote, “doesn’t pretend that I’ll get all I want nor does hope deny that there will be struggles down the road. Hope tucks promises of growth and truth inside the pockets of my struggles.” (Dear Heart, p. 141)

Re-experiencing this memory reminded me that resurrection is part of the paschal mystery:  new spirit-filled life only arrives after passing through suffering, death and dying, and the grief that follows. In the meantime I persevere with Hope, tuck away signs of God’s grace, and wait patiently for my heart to open and sing with the risen Christ’s joy.  

As you seek to locate hope:

Just think of all the Scriptures that will come true in what we do! For instance, … Isaiah’s word:

There’s the root of our ancestor Jesse,

    breaking through the earth and growing tree tall,

Tall enough for everyone everywhere to see and take hope!

Oh! May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope!  

Romans 15:10, 12-13 (The Message)

Go Deeper:

  • Listen to The Only Way Through Is In by Carrie Newcomer
  • Pray with the litany of faith in Hebrews, Chapter 11 that begins, “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.”  Just as the author recalls people of the Old Testament who persevered through trials, create your own litany, noticing how God was and is present in your own struggles.
  • Spend time with contemplations from the 4th Week of the Spiritual Exercises, praying for the grace to share in the joy and peace of the risen Christ (#221), noticing how he consoles his friends (#224) with hope and comfort.

Photo by Bruno Emmanuelle on unsplash.com
Original watercolor image by Jenene Francis 

 

Jenéne Francis is an aspiring contemplative in action who finds writing creative non-fiction and short fiction a fruitful spiritual practice. She also enjoys adapting and offering the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius for days of reflection and retreats. In her professional life, Jenéne serves as the Provincial’s Associate Pastoral Assistant for the Midwest Province of the Society of Jesus supporting retreat houses, spirituality programs, parishes, hospital chaplains, and other Jesuits engaged in pastoral work. Having spent 17 years at the Procter and Gamble Company, followed by 20 years in ministry, Jenéne gets great satisfaction by offering her engineer’s head and poet’s heart for “the greater glory of God.”

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