May 22, 2020

A word I am hearing with great frequency in the these most uncertain of times is hope

The headlines say it all: “Auto Workers’ Return Gives Hope”, “Property Owners Hopeful Vacation Rentals Will Be Cleared to Reopen”, “NCAA Hopes for June Sports Return”.

People are hoping to have haircuts, to fly on commercial airplanes, to have their teeth cleaned.

Perhaps the best explanation of this abstract concept, hope, has been provided by American poet, Emily Dickinson. 

“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.

In this extended metaphor, Dickinson identifies hope not as a thing, but the thing within all people which keeps us going.  She likens hope (an abstract concept) to a tangible entity: a bird.  Covered with soft feathers (though feathers are also strong allowing the bird to fly in gusty winds), the bird sings, not at daybreak, not on a sunny tree limb, but in the dark and chill of life’s storms.

I believe we have all heard this bird, are hearing it daily if we stop to listen.  It’s what keeps us going. 

Dickinson scholars have long commented that many of her poems are reflective of the Psalms and of hymns. 

Consider Psalm 62.  Here the psalmist, presumably David, besieged by enemies, places his hope on God: “For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress.”

A familiar hymn by Isaac Watts proclaims the hope provided by God throughout the ages, this “something” within us all that Dickinson points to.

Turn up your speakers now, and sing along:

Oh God, our help in ages past
Our hope for years to come
Our shelter from the stormy blast
And our eternal home.

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