Sunday, May 3, 2020

Aristotle, T.S. Eliott and Others... on Hope

Illustration by the author.
When times are monstrous, what people need more than anything is hope.

It's easy to be discouraged when times are crazy, when there is such vitriol being spread through the media and confusion seems to reign. Book titles like Phillip Yancey's Where Is God When It Hurts? and Jacques Ellul's Hope In Time Of Abandonment so concisely capture the need and the feeling that oppresses more than ever.

Any reader of the Psalms will see the recurring heart-anguish of writers expressing their grief at the feeling of abandonment. "Why are you cast down, oh my soul? And why are you so disquieted within me?" writes the author of Psalm 43. He then instructs his heart to hope in God. There is light at the end of this tunnel.

Emily Dickinson famously wrote
"Hope" is the thing with feathers —
That perches in the soul —

And sings the tune without the words —
And never stops — at all —

Aristotle expressed it this way: "Hope is the dream of a waking man."

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
--T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets, East Coker (1940), (III)

EdNote: The passage above brings to mind some of the writings of mystics from the Middle Ages like the Jakob Boehme and the unknown author of The Cloud of Unknowing. My first encounter with it was in the poems and writings of St. John of the Cross, a 16th century Catholic friar who was descended from Jewish converts to Christianity. It was later mentioned in the writing of A.W. Tower.

* * * *

When Benjamin Disraeli wrote, "I am prepared for the worst, but hope for the best," I don't really know what he was referring to, but I'm pretty sure most of us--speaking here of our current global circumstances--have not been "prepared for the worst." We've lived so long in an easy-going, aw shucks manner, at least in the USA, that as this pandemic was kicking up dust elsewhere we just kind of assumed it would all blow over and we'd all be back to normal soon.

It seems like the ramifications of what has happened and is happening still haven't fully hit us. I, too, am hoping for the best, and hoping we're prepared for the worst. I'm certain many are not.

* * * *

"Hope is itself a species of happiness, and, perhaps, the chief happiness which this world affords." --Samuel Johnson

"Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement; nothing can be done without hope."--Helen Keller

"While there's life there's hope, and only the dead have none."--Theocritus

* * * *

"But God will never forget the needy; the hope of the afflicted will never perish."--Psalm 9:18

"The sun will come out Tomorrow.
Bet your bottom that Tomorrow
there'll be sun."
--Annie

Just keep breathing. And wash your hands.

4 comments:

LEWagner said...

My Great Aunt Frances Pulaski told me when she was in her middle to upper 90's, "Lloyd, we live on hope."

pspooner said...

Yes, I suppose without concepts of "hope" or "faith" or "good" or "belief" we would have killed each other off long ago. And art/poetry/music are our very helpful tools as we grasp and flail for expression of these quasi-ineffable concepts of order.

I've been slowly reading* Yuval Noah Harari's "Sapiens..." - and with your post I flash on his reference to "imagined orders" and "cooperative networks."

*thanks to R. Hanson for urging me to continue

pspooner said...

Yes, I suppose without concepts of "hope" or "faith" or "good" or "belief" we would have killed each other off long ago. And art/poetry/music are our very helpful tools as we grasp and flail for expression of these quasi-ineffable concepts of order.

I've been slowly reading* Yuval Noah Harari's "Sapiens..." - and with your post I flash on his reference to "imagined orders" and "cooperative networks."

*thanks to R. Hanson for urging me to continue

Laura Leivick said...

Caravaggio's motto, "Nec spe, nec metu" (neither hope nor fear), with its roots in Stoicism, seems with a mention here. Some 18th century author adapted it as "neither hope nor fear excessively" -
a recommendation of the via media. It's more difficult than it sounds, but a worthy goal. Keep calm and carry on.