In the past two weeks, I’ve been experiencing a strange sensation. Maybe you have, too. It feels like something long-forgotten, recently resurfacing—like an old song on the radio, one you hadn’t thought of in twenty years, but to whose every word you can sing along. My friends, to put it plainly, I am feeling hopeful.
Yes, it’s absolutely tied to the change of season we’re experiencing. I don’t claim to have Seasonal Affective Disorder, but I used to dread and fear the winter—all aspects of it, the way the light faded to a few hours a day, how the feeling left my feet for months at a time, the old griefs that first occurred in winter replaying above and below my consciousness, how I could barely work up the energy to write a paper or take a walk. One December many years ago, I confessed this to a professor of mine who wisely saw through the poetics of my despair and recommended vitamin D and iron supplements. It was like magic. After two days, I could suddenly write papers and take walks (which also helped with getting feeling back into my feet.) This weekend, I spent eight hours a day outdoors in the glorious 60-degree sunshine and now even blog-writing seems possible. Hope, I know, is partly a medical condition.
There’s also something unthinking (or, in some circles, decidedly uncool) about being hopeful. There’s plenty wrong with the world, and no observable commitment to end the damage we wreak upon ourselves and all living things. Yet Dickinson was right in saying hope was a thing with feathers, flighty and whimsical, but still present in the ongoing gale. Hope, I know, is not so much a panacea as it is a song to sing during the work that continues.
But for me, there’s almost something like superstition to name a feeling of hopefulness. I’m sure I’m not any more or less scarred by past experiences of dashed expectations, of a hopefulness deferred or denied, than any other cognizant being on the planet. I think I’m just hesitant by nature. It was my younger sister who took to roller coasters and scary movies, and I’ve never felt I missed out.
When you read the Gospel of Mark, easily the best gospel and happily the one we’ll be spending the most time with this lectionary year, there’s a trope you’ll pick up on quickly that scholars call “the Messianic secret.” Every time Jesus does something significant, he sternly orders those around him to say tell no one. Miracles, signs, the Transfiguration — observers are all sworn to secrecy.
While many readers find this command confounding, it’s always resonated with me. Don’t count your chickens before they hatch. Don’t open the oven or the soufflé will fall. Don’t jinx it. Don’t tell anyone the hopes you harbor for that which is unseen.
But it’s been a couple of weeks now of seeing more and more of you telling the tales of your vaccinations. Through tears, I’ve seen you inside the church for the first time in a year. I’ve heard of so many of you volunteering at vaccination sites and helping others navigate their way through poorly designed systems to help others get their shot. The weather isn’t just vitamin D, but the opportunity to imagine ways to worship outdoors as the vaccination process continues. This week, we’ll begin interviewing candidates for the director of children and family ministries, and we’ll hope to have someone in place for this full-time position as the summer begins.
It’s a lot to say all at once for someone unused to the sentiment. But it does seem like unprecedented trial should yield unprecedented levels of hope. I’m feeling hopeful, friends, embracing this expectation in all its flightiness, physicality, and eschatological reservation. I hope this for you, too.