Driving through the Callahan Tunnel today I was checking out bumper stickers instead of paying attention to the road, and one on the back of a truck caught my eye: Encourage hope instead of fear. As dissatisfied as I can be with bumper sticker creeds, that one really moved me, and I thought about it most of the drive up to Cambridge, in line at the Starbucks where I get my Tuesday hot chocolate, and into my late afternoon appointment on the other side of the river.
Encourage hope instead of fear…since I had spent most of the day with my brain in the 1800s, that phrase naturally made me think of Pope Gregory XVI (wasn’t that your first thought too?) and all those other Popes in the years between the Reformation and the Second Vatican Council, who dug in their heels against the shifting world, convinced that if they let the slightest whiff of modernity in through the cracks, those cracks would make the Church come crashing down like a roof under too much snow.
The Church they knew was already crumbling, the world was going to be different, and they indeed had reason to fear. In that way they were no different from any of us – don’t we all have reason to fear? Everyone is unpredictable, tragedy crashes in on us when we don’t expect it, all of our best efforts might come to nothing. People break into our apartments, people hurt our feelings, people die.
I’ve avoided writing about this because it is so….me, but a few years ago when I was asked to do one of those goofy “life graphs” where you draw the development of your faith, I made a long patch of grass, and right in the middle of it, at a particularly difficult time in my life, I drew a big steaming pile of crap. The rest of my prayer group was mildly scandalized (yet impressed by my clear rendering – there was no doubt what it was supposed to be). Against my will I learned something from that exercise worthy of an 8th grade retreat: the manure of our lives stinks, but it can be great fertilizer.
Whether we are hopeful or afraid doesn’t change that life can be crappy. What it changes is whether we allow our soil to be fertilized or allow our grass to wither. Hope is not the same as naïve optimism: hope is looking honestly at the world and holding in your heart a vision of goodness triumphing. Hope is not trite “everything happens for a purpose” idiocy: hope is coming up with a new purpose when life changes our plans.
Encourage hope instead of fear – half the time we can’t help our fear, but neither can our fear help us. Fear paralyzes us and offers us no control. When we are hopeful we have some control, knowing we participate in a larger plan for goodness, knowing that we are armed in the battle against chaos with fortitude and vision that keep us moving forward through the tunnel.