I met Madeleine L’Engle decades ago. A year shy of college graduation, I had joined my childhood family on a visit to the Big Apple. Alongside our tourist itinerary, I made a side appointment to see the legendary author of A Wrinkle in Time, a favorite novel of my youth.
We met in the library of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, where she worked for nearly 40 years. When I look back now, I see how gracious she was to schedule time for a young man she didn’t know. As light streamed through the room’s windows, we discussed the metaphor of IT in her Newberry Award winning book, an evil force trying to consume inhabited worlds throughout the galaxy. In her narrative, Earth is already “partially dark.”
“IT is still a metaphor for the condition of our planet,” said L’Engle, her eyes tinged with sadness. “A reality yet to be determined.”
I recently recalled that moment while having coffee with a friend. His view of our world, especially our troubled country, has grown increasingly grim. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being “seriously endangered,” he says we are at 11. He enumerated the reasons.
- Climate change with its droughts, wildfires, and decimation of species.
- The erosion of a woman’s reproductive rights.
- The insurrection of January 6th and the conspiratorial assistance of Donald Trump – fascism raising its ugly head in America.
- Racism cloaked in a cultic combo of the American flag and Christian cross.
- Mass shootings and the unwillingness to restrict access to military-style weapons.
- The widening chasm between the rich and poor.
- Pollution of the earth through rampant consumption.
- Pollution of our minds through predatory news streams.
- Continued wars fueled by nationalism, bigotry, and greed.
I agree with every element of his analysis. However, I felt compelled to ask him the question at that core of my new project.
“What gives you hope?”
For many of us, that query has taken on the weight of a Zen kōan. It demands deep reflection, a wrangling of our minds. And, to plumb the Buddhist notion even further, are some of us attached to notions of hope that no longer have realistic meaning in our chaotic world?
I think we can all agree that hope is like oxygen to our souls. Many writers have said so, and these quotes are some of my favorites.
- Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all. – Emily Dickinson
- The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof. – Barbara Kingsolver
- Hope can be a powerful force. Maybe there’s no actual magic in it, but when you know what you hope for most and hold it like a light within you, you can make things happen, almost like magic. – Laini Taylor
- Hope is some extraordinary spiritual grace that God gives us to control our fears, not to oust them. – Vincent McNabb
- Hope is the most powerful force in the universe. With hope you can inspire nations to greatness. With hope you can raise up the downtrodden. With hope you can ease the pain of unbearable loss. – William H. McRaven
- Hope is the fuel within all human souls. Eliminate hope — nothing moves, nothing grows. – Richelle E. Goodrich
We need that tune, that sheltering roof, that light, that grace, that power, that fuel! Perhaps now more than ever!
I am blessed to know some thoughtful and soulful people around the world. Many of them, like me, are struggling to get hold of hope. I also know that we are better together, that our mutual encouragement is one of the greatest benefits of living in community.
So, as I struggle with my own visions of the future, I have turned to members of my extended human family to ask, “What gives you hope?”
Over the next few months, you will hear their responses, arising from diverse perspectives. My hope is that their words will cause you to wrestle with the same question. I also hope that when you get hold of something central to your existence, you will share it with friends, family members, neighbors, co-workers, even your enemies.
Hope now, more than ever!