In times of difficulty, sometimes poets are most helpful in expressing our fears and our hopes.
The “Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner by the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge says:
“I looked to heaven and tried to pray
But where’er a prayer had gushed
A wicked whisper came, and made
My heart as dry as dust.”
The overwhelming sense of hopelessness is what we are sometimes feeling. Especially when we see how long this virus could go on, and how many people have been affected. There are moments when we feel a deep sense of despair.
In the Hebrew Bible/the Old Testament, technically there is no word for hope. That does not mean there is no hope in that part of the Bible. Rather, it is expressed in other ways, implied in the context of stories. It seems as if that part of the Bible has whispers of hope, rather than saying it in ways that feel too easy. The subtle approach to hope seems to be more realistic when facing an overwhelming situation.
In this time, it is the quiet acts of courage (and hope) that move us. The people who continue to keep the grocery store or the gas station open. The healthcare workers who keep on taking the risk of being exposed every day. In gloomy times, small acts can function to keep hope alive. Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann says that Biblical hope is the resilient conviction that our life is related to an overriding purpose that prevails. Hope knows that what we do matters. Hope sees that what we do is not forgotten.
There is a poem by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre that I find very helpful. It is called “What to Do in the Darkness.”
Consent to it
But don’t wallow in it
Know it as a place of germination
Remember the light
Take an outstretched hand if you find one
Exercise unused senses
Find the path by walking it
Watch for dawn.
(Weavings XIX: 2. 3/04)
Taking an outstretched hand may have to be metaphor in our time. But there are unseen hands that continue to reach out to us, and care for us. They remind us of God’s hand reaching to out to us. For now, practice trust. Watch for dawn.
—Rev. Dr. Andrew McDonald