Hope and the Call to Action

[Dedicated to Fr. Stan Swamy]

There are words we use again and again, but when we unpack their meanings, we learn so much more. Hope is one of these words.

I have often been conflicted about my own understanding of hope. I have written about it before; I dwell on it in times of churning and confusion. Sometimes I know what it means, other times a full understanding just eludes me.

Today I’d like to share wise words from other thinkers that have deepened my understanding.

The first of these is from The Czech statesman, poet and playwright Václav Havel.

I came across his words at a college in Prague many years ago: “Hope … is not the conviction that something will turn out well but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”

And recently, I re-read Rebecca Solnit’s “Hope In The Dark”. My copy of the book is bristling with post-it flags marking pages and passages I want to read again and reflect on. She writes that hope is not like a lottery ticket you can clutch feeling lucky; she likens hope to an axe you break down doors with, “… because hope should shove you out the door.” Hope calls for action where anything could happen, “..and whether we act of not has everything to do with it.”

An article in Lion’s Roar, Roshi Joan Halifax makes a distinction between ordinary hope and what she calls Wise Hope.

She says that ordinary hope is based in desire, wanting an outcome that could well be different from what will actually happen. Not getting what we hoped for is usually experienced as some kind of misfortune. This ordinary hope is a subtle expression of fear and a form of suffering.

Wise Hope is seeing things just as they are, including the truth of suffering—both its existence and our capacity to transform it. It’s when we realize we don’t know what will happen that this kind of hope comes alive.

She points out: “in that spaciousness of uncertainty is the very space we need to act.

Psychologist and wise woman, Adele Ryan McDowell in her blog post on hope < https://adeleandthepenguin.com/a-story-of-hope-faith-and-charity/ > reminds us of the two values traditionally attached to hope. “Also, talk to the relations,” she advises us.   “… You see, hope is part of triplet combination. Remember faith and charity? Faith is the anchor for hope … Charity is a lot like water because it is all about flow and the circulation of flow …”

Again, there is the invitation to act.

We are often deterred by the call to action; it seems so huge, this problem or issue, and what can our tiny little efforts change?

But the invitation is to do what we can, where we can. Each of us. Solnit again: “I want to throw out the crippling assumptions that keep many from being a voice in the world.

My friend Freema tells me a story that epitomises the action we make out of Wise Hope.

These words in an email message from her: “Demonstrating FOR instead of against is not an obvious thing these days.” had me pay more attention.

She wrote of a virtual demonstration happening on facebook, for which she signed up for, with some mixed feelings. But she clearly saw how the two opposing sides and their demonstrations were just polarizing her country more and more.

She decided she wanted to demonstrate “for what I want instead of against all the things that are wrong.” So one day, she just got up and went out with a sign she had made that said ‘For honesty and integrity’, borrowed a flag from someone, and went out to stand on the corner close to her home for about half an hour. Alone.

From her point of view, though it wasn’t what she would call a huge success, it was still a success in that she actually got out there. “There were not many people out, since the lockdown had started at 2pm and I went out at 6. We are allowed to go out to a distance of one km from our homes, there were people jogging, walking their dogs or babies, and most of them just ignored me. One woman gave me a lovely smile as she passed me with her kid in a stroller, but since I had a mask on, I am not sure she could tell I was smiling back. A couple of people gave me a curious sideways glance, I guess as they saw the sign I had around my neck. After half an hour I went home.” 

Freema then sent a message to her neighbourhood WhatsApp group to say what she was going to do and inviting people to join her. A few other people sent messages of support, but – no big surprise here – no one actually showed up. 

But later, she sent me an update, which to me is a lesson in what an individual acting out of hope can do, even when support seems to be absent.

“Because of the non-reaction I got the day before, I decided to let it go for a few days. Then at about 6:30 I looked at my phone and a couple of neighbours had posted a photo of themselves with flags, at the spot I’d been the day before — and their message was – “We are demonstrating FOR!” I went out right away, they had already left; but I felt very pleased about that.” Still later, more people joined.

Recently in the news, mainly because Time Magazine included her as an Icon in their list of 100 most influential people for 2020, we read about 82 year old Bilkis, one of the women of hope demonstrating at Shaheen Bagh, with hundreds of other Muslim women, joined by other individuals and groups from various religious backgrounds. Their sit-in protest went on from December till March, day after day, each morning till midnight, until the Coronavirus pandemic hit India and a nation-wide lockdown was announced. They sat peacefully – persistent in the face of abusive misinformation about them – for what they believed in and hoped for.

Her son told reporters that when she was told that she has been declared as one of the most influential people in the world, she just said “Okay”, adding ” I am thankful to the almighty. I would have been much happier had our demand been fulfilled…had the government listened to us and given us what we wanted (withdrawal of the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act).”

So, while we can’t know the exact outcome for sure, we can trust that there will be movement – mostly at the edges, often in several small groups that can join to make larger groups. There will be change; we can’t predict exactly when, but we trust it will come. And we will be part of it. 

That, we can understand, is hope at work.

*****

No story this time, but a call-to-action poem from one of my favourite poets, that invites us to ” join our solitudes in the communion of struggle”

B E G I N N E R S

~ Denise Levertov

(Dedicated to the memory of Karen Silkwood and Eliot Gralla)

“From too much love of living,
Hope and desire set free,
Even the weariest river
Winds somewhere to the sea—”



But we have only begun
To love the earth.

We have only begun
To imagine the fullness of life.

How could we tire of hope?
— so much is in bud.

How can desire fail?
— we have only begun

to imagine justice and mercy,
only begun to envision

how it might be
to live as siblings with beast and flower,
not as oppressors.

Surely our river
cannot already be hastening
into the sea of nonbeing?

Surely it cannot
drag, in the silt,
all that is innocent?

Not yet, not yet–
there is too much broken
that must be mended,

too much hurt we have done to each other
that cannot yet be forgiven.

We have only begun to know
the power that is in us if we would join
our solitudes in the communion of struggle.

So much is unfolding that must
complete its gesture,

so much is in bud.

*****

2 thoughts on “Hope and the Call to Action

  1. Such molten power in those words,yet they brim with hope…thank you…in these anxiety and angst ridden times,this is a salve to the soul.

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