759. On Hope and Fear in Birthing Hope

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In Birthing Hope: Giving Fear to the Light, author Rachel Marie Stone writes:

“Hope: believing that some alleviation, some hand to hold or some hands to hold us, some ark, some higher place is always on its way, that our suffering, our struggle, our death, even, somehow generates life of some kind; leads to some homegoing, some rescue, some return: salvation.”

I first read Birthing Hope last summer. The title attracted me given my current work on a manuscript about hope, plus the book’s cover is gorgeous. I’ll admit I read it rather quickly, looking for how Stone developed the topic of hope. The writing was beautiful, yes, and the story and rumination compelling, yet I’ll admit it left me puzzled. The title had given top billing to Hope, while Fear held secondary billing in the subtitle position, yet the book’s primary gaze was on fear not hope. Hope is so often linked with desire that this way of looking at hope as linked to fear took me by surprise. I had to think about it awhile.

Late last fall, I reread the book and what came forward to me was the title’s first word: Birthing. Birthing is what is front and center. In the context of fear, when living with fear, what is the role of hope? The author likens the ability to hope in spite of fear to the birthing process, where labor is indeed frightening, but the hope for the new life to come keeps the delivering mother moving forward.

Stone continues:

“There’s a bit of false etymology that’s grown up around the word hope, and I like it, even though it’s not true. Hope, some people have claimed, comes from the word for hoop. I like it because hope should be round. Hope, like wholeness, like holiness, years for healing, resolution, closure. Hope believes that the circle will indeed be unbroken, by and by.”

The metaphor of labor, with its attending fear and hope, includes each one of us: aren’t each of us giving birth to something, waiting for newness and life to emerge?

What are your thoughts on hope and fear? I’d love to know.

~~~

[Photo: taken of a slice of the book’s cover.]

Excerpt used with permission.

757. With thanks to Mary Oliver

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Mary Oliver, superlative poet and essayist, died this past week at the age of 83. I first started reading her work, particularly her essays, in mid-life when I was in graduate school. Reading her was like having a friend next to me, urging me on to pay attention, to pause, to look, to wonder, to praise. In Long Life: Essays and Other Writing, Oliver wrote:

“And that is just the point: how the world, moist and bountiful, calls to each of us to make a new and serious response. That's the big question, the one the world throws at you every morning, ‘Here you are, alive. Would you like to make a comment?’"


When I heard that she had died, I took Long Life off my bookshelf and went through, re-reading the lines I’d starred and underlined.


Here are a few of the other lines my eyes landed on:

“What does it mean, say the words, that the earth is so beautiful? And what shall I do about it? What is the gift that I should bring to the world? What is the life that I should live?”


And this:

“I walk in the world to love it.”


And this:

"And here I build a platform, and live upon it, and think my thoughts, and aim high. To rise, I must have a field to rise from. To deepen, I must have a bedrock from which to descend." ( I had wanted to use this as an epigraph for Finding Livelihood but due to permission issue I had to cut it.)


This morning, here in Minneapolis, the sky is blue and sunny, the air cold. New snow, not much, is glistening white. Although the thermometer reads –1°, it is all so beautiful. Oliver wrote, “There is a rumor of total welcome among the frosts of the winter morning. Beauty has its purposes, which, all our lives and at every season, it is our opportunity, and our joy, to divine.”

May you divine much beauty, live the life yours to live, think thoughts and aim high, walk and love. I thank Mary Oliver for writing and sharing her deeply meaningful words. If you have some words of Oliver’s to share, I’d love to read them in the comments.

~

I’m experimenting with providing an audio version of my posts. Let me know what you think!

~~~

To read other posts I’ve written about Mary Oliver, click here.

[Photo: taken of a painting viewed at the Minnesota Museum of American Art: “March Idyll or Winter Landscape, Woodstock” by John Fabian Carlson; used with permission. I love that crack in the sky in the upper left corner that tells you the sun is about to break through. I think Mary Oliver would also have loved it.)

749. Making visible signs of hope

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This past week I've been reading Henri Nouwen's, The Wounded Healer. Written in 1972 and primarily to an audience of ministers, I'm finding that it offers much wisdom to anyone who seeks to be a caring and positive presence in the world. I'm going to write more about it in my newsletter this weekend, but here's a place to start:

More than anything, else, he will look for signs of hope and promise in the situation in which he finds himself...[and have] the sensibility to notice the small mustard seed and the trust to believe that ‘when it has grown it is the biggest shrub of all and becomes a tree so that the birds of the air come and shelter in its branches.’ (Mt. 13:31—32) He knows that if there is hope for a better world in the future the signs must be visible in the present, and he will never curse the now in favor of the later. He is not a naive optimist who expects his frustrated desires to be satisfied in the future, nor a bitter pessimist who keeps repeating that the past has taught him that there is nothing new under the sun; he is rather a man of hope who lives with the unshakable conviction that now he is seeing a dim reflection in the mirror, but that one day he will see the future face to face.

The Christian leader who is able not only to articulate the movements of the spirit but also to contemplate his world with a critical but compassionate eye, may expect that the convulsive generation will not choose death as the ultimate desperate form for protest, but instead the new life of which he has made visible the first hopeful signs.

Please forgive Nouwen the exclusive use of masculine pronouns (which he apologizes for in the introduction to the edition I read). Next, consider that his term "the convulsive generation" can apply to any person who is troubled or needs hope.

And then, most importantly, let's please imagine ourselves (dare I say) in the leader role, articulating the spirit, considering our world with a compassionate eye, and making visible signs of hope to whomever among us needs it.

~~~

[Photo: reflections on a summer sidewalk]