What does hope mean for the hopeless?
For me in my cozy Americana life, it's easy to feel like “hope” is attainable.
Yet if I'm honest, hope for me is more like anticipation.
I anticipate Christmas.
I anticipate road trips, meeting career goals and the next fun outing.
A few days ago, I tuned in to an NPR special on slavery and Ghana.
Did you know this year, 2019, marks exactly 400 years since the first boat of approximately 20 enslaved people from Africa was brought to American shores?
The NPR program focused on Ghana as a center of the slave trade.
It traced the history of the slave trade, pointing to the deep-rooted guilt many Ghanaians carry because of their ancestor’s part in helping to capture their fellow Africans to sell to greedy foreigners.
During the program, one woman, an archaeologist, mentioned that at her dig, an old castle used as a holding cell for slaves, people refuse to work at night because they can hear screams and cries for help.
At another point in the program, a woman shared what it means for African Americans from Ghana to return there and see both where their ancestors came from and the horror they went through.
She shared that many Ghanaians are holding ceremonies in which they apologize for their part in the slave trade.
In the process, these African Americans are finding peace with their heritage by tracing their roots and realizing their ancestors were people of enormous strength and courage.
When the archaeologist shared how her slave-castle dig was haunted with screaming pleas for help, I choked back tears, for momentarily I too heard the hollow anguished screams piercing the stench and the darkness, screams that would never ever be answered.
My heart ached for the women who were raped repeatedly and then, instead of rescue, healing and hope, gifted a lifetime of ravaging dehumanizing slavery.
I felt an inner tormented crazy-making helplessness at the mental image of children screaming for their mothers whilst being sold and shipped far far away, robbed of identity, heritage, home, safety, belonging.
I pictured the men, beaten and humiliated, translated as cattle, their very human dignity violated, lost.
How the hell did these people have anything even remotely like hope? Even a glimmer of freedom-light was assuredly snuffed out within a week or two of capture.
Yet, somehow, miraculously, as they heard tidbits of the word preached by their persecutors, they absorbed ideas like salvation, and rescue.
The stories of Daniel and of Moses were written for them, to them, weren't they? God was on their side.
God would rescue.
They wrote songs and they sang: https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200197495/.
And their spiritual songs paradoxically displayed both torment and impossible HOPE.
Isn't that theme, after all, of salvation, of deliverance, all over the pages of the word?
Save me, rescue me, deliver me, we cry out...
And I am left spinning, dizzy, wondering if I've gotten hope all wrong.
I search for it and reach for it.
Sometimes, I try to manufacture it from the empty stores of my own cavernous interior.
And when I can’t find it or feel it, I do what I can to forget about it, the thought of its un-attainability impossible to hold.
What if we are living in the upside-down of Stranger Things, seeing hope all warped and wonky, ever-reaching, stretching, grasping, clawing?
What if the very nature of hope, though, is that it is always there, regardless of our striving?
What if hope isn’t something we attain or create?
What if it isn’t something we discover or buy?
What if, instead, hope is simply "The Thing That Is".
What if, like the slaves of old who wrote the spirituals and sang them jubilantly as they plodded through endless days full of torment, we simply acknowledged hope's existence as longing's perfect parallel?
What if hope has always been about the seeing rather than the grabbing, the holding, and the hoarding?
Light a candle, friends, right now, in the darkness, right there in the middle of the cancer diagnosis, the uncertainties, the insurmountable injustices.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”