A Poetic Hope

“I don’t care to wake up in the morning without hope. Hope is a survival mechanism.” Norman Lear, Producer

I’ve been sleeping more than I usually do, and not because I need it. I’m waking up every day to the latest news alerts reminding me of our country’s status and that things can dramatically change overnight. Various forms of fatigue are taking over faster than we can define them: internet fatigue, news fatigue — there’s a new reason for exhaustion every day if only just for the need to stay informed. My tired eyes scrolling through the day’s news are about as slothful as my hope feels. And this innocent gaze into hope reminds me of a man at the Los Angeles Airport protest last week who was carrying a sign that read, “Praying With Our Legs.” Hope may be innocent, but it is not ignorant, and it is never inactive.

Still, our days are spent helplessly thrashing towards countless causes of great urgency that seem beyond manageable. The many tasks at hand seem innumerable and our collective flailing towards “what now” is so scattered that we’re left far more hopeless than hopeful. What does hope look like now when the urgency of so many calls leaves us floundering and spreading ourselves thin? What does hope look like when it’s drenched in despair and feels more hopeless than hopeful?

Hope is more like poetry, and our lives are far more poetic than we think.

The hope of hope itself is found in our ability to sketch it without defining it, as Audre Lorde said, “Poetry is an absolute necessity of our living because it delineates.” In this inexplicable mystery, hope allows me to move from fear to freedom quite simply by knowing there is something better. That something I may define with explicit clarity some days and only sense as a weeping ache in the direction of desire on other days.

“The hope that rests on calculation has lost its innocence.We are banding together to defend our innocence.” Thomas Merton, Message To Poets, 1964

Innocent hope is beneficial. It leaves room for evolving towards better, beyond the goodness we can see on these foggy days. Of course, this all sounds nice, but what does a poetic hope really mean without specific stances? What does such a hope decipher without clear proclamations against what is innately wrong? Hope may be innocent, but it is not ignorant, and it is not inactive.

Poetry often means what I need it to. I can pick up Mary Oliver and weep over lost love while maintaining love exists; I can walk through the words of Walt Whitman and predict a tone that is in unison with my own. Yet there remains a core to these poems – a style in the writing, a unified voice with nature, a spiritual timbre in the pauses. Poetic hope heeds the wisdom of those who have gone before us; it listens to those who have been in struggle longer and recognizes these are not newborn war cries.

“Hope just means another world might be possible, not promised, not guaranteed. Hope calls for action; action is impossible without hope.” Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark

Hope listens. It is vigilant to the cries of others, cries it may have previously ignored — but hope humbles itself to embrace the call of the whole. At the end of the day, we cannot be about hope if we are not about our fellow humans. So this is my war cry, a poetic hope. A hope that heeds the notes of those who have been here before, a hope that finds my entry points across the urgent calls, a hope that educates and moves in the ways of love, a hope that is active, a hope that is poetic, a hope that is truly hopeful. Hope may be innocent, but it is not ignorant, and it is never inactive.

“Do not depend on the hope of results. You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. You gradually struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything.” Thomas Merton, in a letter to Jim Forest, 1966, reproduced in The Hidden Ground of Love: Letters by Thomas Merton

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Published by Cassidy Hall

Cassidy Hall (MA, MDiv, MTS) is an author, filmmaker, podcaster, and holds a Masters of Divinity, Masters of Theological Studies, and Masters in Counseling. Born and raised in Iowa, she now works at First Congregational United Church of Christ in Indianapolis where she is pursuing ordination in the UCC. Throughout her time at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, she worked as a Teaching Assistant while studying for her MDiv and MTS degrees (December, 2021). During her time at seminary, she also served as the Secretary of the International Thomas Merton Society and continues to serve on the board of Enfleshed. Cassidy co-authored Notes on Silence (2018) and has had her work featured in devotionals including most recently: Thirsty, and You Gave Me Drink; Homilies and Reflections for Cycle C, from Clear Faith Publishing (2021). Her essays have been published in the Christian Century, The National Catholic Reporter, Convivium Journal, The Thomas Merton Seasonal, The Thomas Merton Annual, and she has also been a contributor for The Huffington Post and Patheos. Before pursuing her MDiv and MTS in Indianapolis, Cassidy lived in Los Angeles where she worked on the production team of the documentary feature film, In Pursuit of Silence. The film’s success on the festival circuit and beyond led to its worldwide theatrical release. Her directorial debut short-film, Day of a Stranger, paints an intimate portrait of Thomas Merton’s hermitage years and received the Audience Choice Award from Illuminate Film Festival.   She is the co-host of the Encountering Silence podcast, which explores the ambiguity of silence in our modern-day lives. And more recently, she created a podcast hosted by the Christian Century titled Contemplating Now, which examines the intersection of contemplation and social justice.

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