In her wonderful book, The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown shares her research about how we can practice what she calls wholehearted living. One of her ten guideposts for wholehearted living is "Cultivating a resilient spirit: letting go of numbing and powerlessness." Which is where hope comes in.
If we go back to the legend of Pandora and her box, Hope was the only virtue left to humankind when she had let all the others escape. And my dictionary defines hope as "expectation and desire combined; feeling of trust", which I guess is how most people think of it. Brené Brown, who is an accomplished sociological researcher, thought so too, and was shocked to find that "hope is not an emotion; it's a way of thinking or a cognitive process." In other words, it is a way of being that can be learned!
I'd like to share what she says about how hope happens; it is when: "We have the ability to set realistic goals (I know where I want to go). We are able to figure out how to achieve these goals, including the ability to stay flexible and develop alternative routes (I know how to get there, I'm persistent, and I can tolerate disappointment and try again). and We believe in ourselves (I can do this!)."
She also grounds the ability to be hopeful in a foundation of spirituality, which she defines as "the belief in connection, a power greater than self, and interconnections grounded in love and compassion." I would also argue that it is much easier to find hope, to be hopeful, and resilient, when we have a belief in something greater than ourselves. This might be a higher power, which some of us might name God or Spirit of Life and Love; or it might be a belief in the worth of working towards a lofty goal, such as world peace, an end to poverty, the spread of compassion - whatever.
It has been an eventful year, in our own lives, in the life of Unitarian congregations, and in the wider world. Some of us have faced bereavement and grief, others have faced life-threatening or less scary but still serious health issues, and all of us have watched the wider world seemingly going to hell in a hand-basket. At the beginning of this year, we came together, shocked by the attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris, at this end of the year, our thoughts are once more in Paris, in Beirut, in Iraq, with the refugees huddling in inadequate camps all over Europe and the Middle East, and in all the other places where violence and deprivation seem to be holding sway. Yet in between most congregations have continued to meet regularly in worship, to support various charities, and to try to make the phrase "beloved community" a reality. That is having hope.
May Peace, Faith, and Love shine brightly in all our lives, fuelled by Hope.