Advent 4: It's Okay to be Hopeful


Yesterday I read an excellent piece by Christena Celeveland called The Privilege of Hopelessness. She says the phrase “Despair is the luxury of the bourgeoisie” has been overheard in a Palestinian refugee camp. Strangely, the farther we are from systemic injustice (by virtue of race, class, ability, life circumstance, gender identity, etc.), the easier it is to despair.

I remember right after the 2016 election when liberal white folks (myself included) were panicking, wondering what had happened to our country. People of color and other marginalized groups were saying, “ Welcome to our our world! It’s been scary for a long time. But it didn’t keep us from working for justice.”

And lately I’m noticing it again, that it’s become popular for people of my ilk to binge on news and then bellyache about how horrible the world is. I’m right there with them. I don’t believe things are getting better. I’m noticing the smoke hovering over Bellingham every August and the news of gun deaths every day and the barefoot children at the border. I’m horrified that so many people in power are ignorant, cruel, or greedy. I don’t have a generalized faith in humanity or God or science that we will figure these things out before it’s too late.

But, as a person of privilege who sometimes despairs, I don’t believe I have the luxury of staying there. The priest who gave the homily at St. Gregory’s yesterday (Photo above! Beautiful!) talked about “phenological mismatch,” a phenomena that’s happening more and more because of climate change. The white hares in New England are turning white later in the season because the snow is late and, without their camouflage, they are getting eaten by coyotes. Frozen sea turtles are washing up on the shores of Cape Cod since warmer water means they are migrating later and getting caught in the cold. Listening to the priest, I was backing into a darker and darker place, tears dropping onto my lap. As it should be, really. We’re talking about the end of the world here!

Then she surprised us by saying, “Despair is a phenological mismatch for the season of Advent.” This is a season when we are allowed to hope, even called to hope, despite all the evidence. I’ve always said that the antidote to despair is to live in reality. The turtles are freezing, but a record number of women just got elected to Congress. Black bodies are being traumatized by the police, but my white son is talking about it. There are hundreds of homeless people in my little town, but my Dad comes home from his job at the Lighthouse Mission and tells me stories about their courage.

The word “courage” has held a lot of meaning for me this year, and I think it takes courage to hope. Emily and I have been reading a daily prayer for courage from the Corrymeela Community in Ireland, an organization that works for peace and reconciliation. I’ll end with part of it:

…we are called
to live lives of courage,
love and reconciliation
in the ordinary and extraordinary
moments of each day.

We bear witness, too, to our failures
and our complicity in the fractures of our world

May we be courageous today,
May we learn today,
May we love today.