Thursday, June 2, 2011

What Gives Me Hope? - Kurt Nelson

Kurt Nelson
Rollins Chapel, 6.2.11
What Gives Me Hope? 

Hebrews 11:1-3.  Romans 8: 24-25

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all,
(From Emily Dickinson.  Not me.)

Wouldn’t that be nice?
If we could hear hope’s perpetual song?
I can’t always hear it.
Though I would consider myself a fairly hope-filled person.
That doesn’t,
I suppose, mean that it’s not singing.

I can however,
answer quite simply the question,
What Gives Me Hope?
For what gives me hope,
really and truly,
is Grace – plain and simple.

I have more written,
but we can stop there if you’re satisfied.
And I’d consider my work,
as resident Lutheran,
to be well-done.
But I’m guessing
that saying grace gives me hope,
is just trading one theological platitude for another.
So I will try my best,
to tell you what I think I mean.

Grace means,
at its simplest,
that the good things in life,
and indeed life itself.
That the love of God,
and all that comes with it,
are gifts.
And more to the point,
gifts to which we’re not entitled,
and which we’ve done nothing to deserve.

Grace is a simple and profound idea,
which Christians everywhere profess,
almost universally.
But which few if any of us,
ever really grasp,
or truly live.
Because the problem with Grace,
the problem with the God of Love,
is that it remains often,
as both of today’s scriptures suggest,

On the one hand,
Grace is hard to see,
because it's so present.
All around us;
The grace of the sun's rising.
The grace of trees and food.
The grace of breathing,
and walking and living,
and of family and friends.
We see all of these things of course,
but it's rare,
at least for me,
that I really notice them.
And especially rare that I notice them as divine gifts.
For while we say,
and perhaps even know,
that grace means undeserved gifts,
we quickly, typically,
and very humanly,
feel entitled to those gifts.
We feel entitled to our lives,
and the lives of those we love.
Entitled to food and air and national security.
Entitled to freedom, opportunity,
and success.
At times even entitled to a better life to come.
And that creates problems.
(we can reasonably discuss another time,
that which we think all humans really ought to be entitled to,
but) for now,
let us simply note,
that if we expect to receive a gift,
the best we can do,
when we receive it,
is to feel satisfied,
and the worst
when we don't receive it,
is to feel deprived.
Whereas when we treat gifts really as gifts,
we can and should be surprised
or even overwhelmed by joy and gratitude.

It's a subtle, but profound shift.
A shift which I certainly haven't made in my own life,
when it comes to the daily graces which surround us all.
But it is something to which I strive.

And of course, on the other hand,
Grace is often hard to see,
because of the very real struggles, and trials,
and ugly aspects of the world around us.
And indeed, within our very selves.

Sin, and war, and destruction.
Which are real
can lead us far more easily,
down the path of despair,
than that of grace and hope.
And the profound graces that peek through the clouds from time to time,
during our deepest struggles,
are indeed hard to see.

But it is there that my hope is found,
in both aspects of this grace.
The daily graces which I see without noticing.
And especially in those profound graces,
which buoy me during times of trouble.
And allow me to believe in the promise of a better world,
when I can see them.

Both Hebrews and Romans remind us of the true
but challenging fact,
that God and grace,
that in which we place our faith and hope,
is really unseen.
And that's a hard thing to manage.

So while my hope lies ultimately in grace -
simple and profound -
more immediately,
in the day-to-day,
my hope rests in those things which allow me to feel,
to experience,
to glimpse,
those moments of grace.

In particular,
those moments which allow me to see God’s love,
in the midst of the struggles and trials and evils of the world.

Which brings me to our series of speakers this term.
Especially the students.

A strange thing happened as we prepared for this term of reflection,
on what gives us hope.
One by one,
each of the students we invited to speak,
came forward with more-or-less the same question:
Are you sure you want me to speak about hope?
And then they did it again as a group.

None of them,
you may have noticed,
is likely to be described as a wide-eyed optimist
(except maybe Karen, who’s a very special and complicated sort of wide eyed optimist).

But they embraced the task at hand,
and went on to address such topics,
as lament, protest, repentance, and sorrow.
This is and was,
a complicated term's reflection,
on the notion of hope.
Hope which isn’t naively optimistic,
or Pollyannaish,
but instead grounded in the truth of grace, faith and love,
even in the face of sin, death, and trial.

And I will confess,
that that gives me a special kind of hope.
especially with young people,
on those things that give them hope,
especially in complicated ways,
and in complicated times,
It’s one of my favorite aspects of the work I'm so privileged to do.

I find great hope,
in pursuing the unseeable together.
I find great hope,
in the relationships I build and see.

I find great hope in overcoming barriers,
that so often stand in the way,
of our collective pursuit of the good.
Hope in removing obstacles to community.
Hope in seeking meaning,
complicated though it may be.

Hope, in short,
in the students with whom I work.
Because, I think,
they allow me, and encourage me,
and occasionally demand of me,
that I take notice the grace and love
which is always around us,
in times both good and bad.

They allow me to dare to hope,
that change can happen.
That education is meaningful.
That better worlds are possible.

And I hope for each of you who have devoted your work life
to this strange place,
and this strange thing called education,
that you might similarly notice that grace around you.
And I hope for each of you still seeking your path,
that you might find similar satisfaction,
and opportunity to notice the grace around you
in your life and your work to come.

I pray often a prayer which you’ve likely heard if you’ve been here before.
By Howard Thurman,
Theologian, mystic, and activist:

“In the quietness of this place, surrounded by the all-pervading Presence of God, my heart whispers: Keep fresh before me the moments of my High Resolve, that in fair weather or in foul, in good times or in tempests, in the days when the darkness and the foe are nameless or familiar, I may not forget that to which my life is committed.”

My hope comes from moments of high resolve.
Moments where I am grasped by grace,
and unable to ignore its truth and power.
I am lucky.
I am hopeful.
And I pray that those moments,
might be kept before us all,
ever more,
in our life and work together.
And I hope that we might weave together moments of grace,
into a robust, hopeful fabric.
For in hoping,
we are, I believe,
already participating in God’s great story for us.

Daring to ask ourselves if hope might really be stronger than despair.
Daring to live as if grace really is real.
And that gives me hope.

No comments:

Post a Comment