Recently my wife and I visited her family home, just a few days before it sold. The home was built by her parents in the mid-1950’s when they were newly-weds. There they raised their family of five children and lived until their deaths a few years ago. We took photos of the simple house, the large backyard, the variety of trees, and the beautiful vegetable garden from which they fed their family for many years.
Afterwards, as I viewed the photos at home, I was struck by a photo of one of the pear trees. The colours of the photo had been adjusted to portray the tree with a deep rose hue that gave off a sense of abiding light emanating from this old tree. It was quite wonderful to behold.
I then remembered Annie Dillard’s description, recounted in her Pulitzer Prize ‘Pilgrim At Tinker Creek’, of her encounter with the tree with the lights in it, an encounter that opened her eyes to the depth of life that undergirds the world as we know it. It was an encounter that changed her way of seeing and living in the world. Dillard admitted that the vision would come and go, still she continued to live from it.
I suppose her encounter would be similar to Moses’s encounter with the burning bush and the revelation of God (‘I Am Who I Am’), an experience that led to the founding of the Jewish people. Encounters with the divine mystery that flows above and underneath our world, between and through our relationships, and across our personal and communal histories, can form the foundation for hope. Such hope is essential especially when we experience tragedy or face years of struggle and hardship.
Hope is not an escape from life. Quite the contrary. Hope is essential for an active engagement in life. Hope is, of course, an attitude and a disposition. But, it is more than optimism. Hope does not deny suffering, evil, limit situations, tragedy. No, hope does not deny these real-life experiences but sees the ‘more’ in the real, allows desire for life to surface, and feeds courage in the face fear and anxiety. Real hope leads to action. Hope grounds our attitudes and our work. Hope, then, is both a noun and a verb.
As I live through this Covid-19 Pandemic I know there is suffering and tragedy, fear and anxiety. I hear it in the daily news and I feel it in my own life. It is tempting to narrow my focus and to fail to see the trees with the lights that are burning around me. But, if I am to live fully in these times I need to, not only ‘stay home’, but stay open to the mysterious presence of life that continues to abide with me, between us. For those who, like me, situate their personal story within the framework of the Judeo-Christian tradition, this time can be one of a renewal of God’s covenantal fidelity and of resurrecting hope, both of which may help us now to live. Perhaps this time of ‘staying home’ can be a time of walking amongst trees and people (of course while socially distancing), and seeing the lights of hope within them. Filled with such hope we can then rebuild our world.