The Hardest Question was an experiment in preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. All posting is finished, but the content will continue to live here in archive form. You can discover new content by former THQ curator Russell Rathbun at Question the Text.


A New Hope

Crying, waiting, hoping.

by Unvirtuous Abbey

 Gospel Reading: Romans 5: 1-11

For Sunday, Mar. 27, 2011: Year A – Lent 3

A friend of mine was recently “vague booking.” I called him and heard his relationship (or lack of relationship) woes. As we spoke, I asked him, “What gives you hope?”

His answer: “I’ll be in Mexico in two weeks.”

Now, that may not be what gives me, or you, hope, but for him, it was the first thing that came to his mind.

Seeing Hope

A few years ago, I worked with a group of people and asked them to submit pictures of what gave them hope. The project was this: “In our digital world, we are challenging you to record hopeful images in life. Where do you see hope in your daily life?”

I received over 100 images from people. Some were edgy, such as a sink in a soup kitchen. Others were of flowers growing through concrete. Some depicted wildlife and outdoor scenes. A young person submitted a group picture with her friends; their togetherness gave her hope. The project generated a lot of emotion.

Living for the Preposterous

Of hope, Cheryl Lawrie of the Uniting Church in Australia says this: “Hope, an encounter that captivates our imagination so we can’t help but become more than who we thought we were, and find ourselves living for something that is all at once preposterous and impossible.”

The recipe for hope, says Paul, is this: suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope. And hope does not disappoint us.

But, what happens when suffering + endurance + character don’t produce hope? What happens when they produce despair?

Maybe Paul missed something. I can suffer and still have hope. But despair? The truth is, we can’t truly understand what “life” is, what Easter is, until we know darkness. And not just “my flight got cancelled” kind of darkness. But the part where there is no life. Where death creeps in. Yet, sitting on the edge of darkness is hope. Our Abbey tweeted a prayer (quoting Bruce Cockburn) specifically about this: “For those who kick at the darkness ‘til it bleeds daylight, we pray to the Lord.

Hurry Up and Wait

Nietzsche says that “In reality, hope is the worst of all evils, because it prolongs man’s torments” but I disagree.

The only way around despair is through it. It’s the time spent in the deep, dark, cold cave that truly prepares us for the gasp of life that fills our lungs, energizes the soul, and gives us the hope that does not disappoint. But there has to be a period of despair, of suffering, and intentional “spiritual waiting” before something new emerges.

The Hardest Question

Paul says that we are justified by grace through faith and that hope follows on the heels of this. But is hope a gift too? Or something else. What happens when what we are hoping for doesn’t come to fruition?

 Unvirtuous Abbey appeared on the Twitter scene on August 6th, 2010. They are a slightly sarcastic, yet hopeful, group of monks. They try to elevate the conversation with humorous tweets about the Bible, God, and Jesus. They also pray about geeks, Guns and Roses, and Charlie Sheen. They have been interviewed by The Practical Catholic  and the Virtual Abbey.  They  consider themselves lucky to be among the guest bloggers of “The Hardest Question.”


  1. IrreverendSara says:

    Thanks for this.

    I like the Bruce Cockburn lyric. It reminded me of a U2 lyric that I’m using in this week’s sermon.

    “It’s not a hill, it’s a mountain

    As you start out the climb

    Listen for me, I’ll be shouting

    Shouting to the darkness

    Squeeze out sparks of light”

    –From “I’ll Go Crazy if I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight”

    I do think hope is a gift. When we don’t see our hopes come to full fruition, I think we need to keep kicking at or shouting to the darkness. God enables us to see those sparks of light, or the bleeding daylight. The picture of the kitchen sink as a representation of hope reminds me of that. The financial and psychological hardships of the people served at the soup kitchen may never be resolved. But the kitchen sink, full of dirty dishes and pans after feeding the hungry, is a spark of light, a glimpse of the bleeding daylight. One might miss it if only focused on the despair of the situation. God gifts us with that ability to see the hope, and to rejoice in that hope.

    So although it is true that we may never see what we hope for in the course of our earthly lives (a cure for cancer, world peace, an end to hunger, an end to AIDS, a world that is just and good), we see those sparks of light that remind us that God is working on it.

  2. Thank you, Irreverend Sara – we note the similar word play on our names!

    Your point about “focusing on despair” is well taken…which then gives rise to the question:

    As practitioners of the spiritual arts, is hope a discipline?

  3. Jaimie says:

    I’m glad I found this website!

    This reminds me of some helpful discussions I’ve recently had about prayer (though a hope is not exactly the same as a prayer, they seem similar in this). Sometimes we pray for a specific thing, and that wish/prayer/hope does not come true. But what if we learned to pray as Christ did, for God’s will to be done, with sincerity, trusting that whatever God wills for us is what we would will ourselves if we knew everything. Trusting that whatever pain we may have to endure, God, before all time, saw it, and judged it worthwhile in light of the redemption God would work from it. Trusting that even through death, God can weave resurrection. Then, our prayers become much more like a discipline, a practice of trust and submitting ourselves to God’s wisdom and less like uninformed wishes.

    Maybe with hope then, it can be the same. We hope for the good, for the redemption, that we trust God is working out, though we don’t know what it may be. We WISH for certain specific things that may not come true (i.e., healing for cancer), but all along, steadfastly, and with assurance, we hope for God’s ultimate will to be done – which will always come true, if we can wait long enough (so our hope will never disappoint). And it will always be a deeply Good Thing, even if it involves suffering – it will be the specific thing we WOULD have wished for, if we had known as much as God knows, but which we may never have predicted with our limited understanding. So we hope for that, though we don’t even know what it is.


  4. @Jaime:

    We completely agree with practicing “hope as disciple”. Yet, there is a persistence to prayer and living that requires us to be like a Psalmist shouting to God at injustices. We think God is big enough to receive our anger – and for what it’s worth – transform it into something. But you’re right, entering into the process is the important part. It’s one thing to be angry – which is ok – but what are we going to do with that anger? It’s ok to be afraid, because the message that comes back to us is simple: Be not afraid for I am with you.

  5. *discipline* oops!

  6. irreverendsara says:

    Hope as a discipline! I like it. And I shall use it tomorrow morning.

  7. Jaimie says:

    Thanks… this is good to think about.

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