Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Hope as the Form of Life

Hope, it seems, has made its way into Hollywood. Recently at the movie theater, for instance, I saw three distinct images of hope:
  • In the trailer for X-Men: Days of Future Past, Professor Charles Xavier implores his younger self, "Please. We need you to hope again." 
  • In the trailer for Noah, hope is implicitly held out as Russell Crowe's Noah builds an ark and must face down what seems to be a horde rather intent on taking the ark for themselves. 
  • In Catching Fire, President Snow chillingly observes, "Fear does not work as long as there is hope." 
Hope is, sadly, a misused word. "I hope I do well on this test" - even though I've not studied. "I hope I lost weight this week" - even though I ate an entire chocolate cake, albeit in thin slices, over the past seven days. 

Hope, in other words, often seems to be a sort of quixotic optimism, a sentiment expressing something like "I know the odds are against me, but...". If we think of hope like this, as though it were just like wishing on a star, we sorely miss the point. 

Hope, within the theological tradition, is always directed toward a future good which, although difficult to obtain, is still possible to be reached. Or, perhaps expressed more simply, hope is less a "pie in the sky" fantasy than it is a project toward which one must strive. 

This, I think, is one of the great themes present within the Hunger Games novels and movies. In the dystopian setting of the novel, hope has not be quashed under the foot of an oppressive regime: it springs up in unlikely places, offering a tantalizing glimmer of what might be. Hope does not cast away the darkness or the shadows. Indeed, it shows forth the darkness all the more severely. Nevertheless, it resists allowing darkness or death having the final response to human life. Hope reaches out toward goodness even as it recognizes that what it most desires appears to be out of reach for the mere mortal. 

And hope is, of course, the virtue of the mere mortal. It is the virtue that gives us to see ourselves as we are: finite and human. But it is only in coming to know ourselves and our limits that we can reach past them. The first act of a diet is to weigh oneself, of a new workout program to do a fit test. We do this, not to wallow in our current state, but rather in order to get a sense of the direction we need to move. 

At the start of a new year, how are we all called to be people of hope? That is, how are we called to a radical honesty that gives us to see, even if only as a glimmer, the distant good for which we may hope? 

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