‘Hope is that which cannot be taken away from you’
"Giving Thanks for Hope" was the theme of the 46th Annual Nuuanu Interfaith Community's Thanksgiving Eve service, believed to the longest-running truly interfaith event in the United States. I was asked if I might briefly introduce the theme. As I reflected on the theme and the nature of hope, I found I had more to say than just a brief introduction.
What is the nature of hope? Where does hope come from? My unabridged Webster's Dictionary defines hope as "a desire for some good, accompanied with at least a slight expectation of obtaining it or a belief that it is obtainable."
I think I prefer the definition that Mack Stahl and I came up with while participating in the H-5 (Helping Hawaii's Homeless Have Hope) walk around Oahu last month. It was simply, "Hope is that which cannot be taken from you."
Mack is a spiritual guru. Raised as Christian, he is familiar with all the root languages of Christianity -- Greek, Latin, Aramaic, Hebrew. He embraces Buddhism and is knowledgeable of many religions. He has spent the better part of his 72 years traveling around the world (160 countries) exchanging labor for food and shelter.
If hope cannot be taken from us, where does hope come from? The ultimate answer is that it is a gift from the universe for those who desire it. As a Christian, I refer to that source as God. The apostle Paul, writing to the church in Rome, said "we boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given us."
I have heard it said that "the only truly free person is one who has a choice." One of those choices is hope. My sense is that the increase in suicides in this country is due to the inability to choose hope as a viable option for life. We seem to be living in a time in which hope is becoming increasingly important as a survival mechanism when faced with three major challenges:
» Natural cataclysmic events such as the recent typhoon in Bangladesh, the hurricane in New Orleans or the tsunami a year ago in Southeast Asia.
» Atrocities inflicted on humanity by humans, such as the war and tensions in the Middle East, or multination-driven economics of oppression.
» Personal physical challenges caused by both nature and humanity, such as cancer or the AIDS epidemic in sub-Sahara Africa.
The apostle Paul, who is credited for almost single-handedly being responsible for the spread of Christianity in the first century, identified three core elements of human spirituality: faith, hope and charity.
It seems to me that what separates hope from faith and charity is that it is not dependent on another to be sustained. It is hard to share charity without a recipient of one's charity or love. It is hard to sustain faith without an external source of that faith. However, hope comes from within, and whether faced with the pogroms of Hitler, incredible natural disasters, tragic loss or life-threatening illness, if you have hope, it cannot be taken from you.
In this season of Thanksgiving, we should give thanks for hope and try to help one another find hope within them. A hopeless society has no future. It should not be surprising that the Christian season of Advent, the four Sundays leading up to the celebration of the birth of Christ, begins with an emphasis on hope.
My prayer for each one reading this is that you will find deep within you the kernel of hope planted within your human DNA and do all in your power to nurture and grow it so that you can face any challenge life might provide and still be at peace.
The Rev. Daniel L. Hatch is interim senior minister of Community Church of Honolulu.