Hope and prayer seem to share some of the same DNA. Both can feel elusive at times. Both are difficult to define. Both can be serendipitous, washing over us and even overwhelming us at unexpected times. Emily Dickenson wrote that "Hope is a thing with feathers." The same can be said of prayer in my experience. Hope at times frustratingly and inexplicably flutters away, same can be said of prayer. What do we pray when violence erupts in Colorado or in our own back yard here in Wisconsin? How can we as human beings seem so advanced in our medical and educational and other understandings, yet human nature remains that anger and hatred comes out in the form of violence?
Maybe some of the frustration with hope...and prayer...is that neither seem to obey our commands or bend to our control. And we are rather accustom to being able to buy, consume, and control just about everything else in our lives. But not hope. But not prayer. Neither can be picked up on your next grocery trip. Neither can be willed from within. Because both are gift. Pure and unconditional gifts.
That may not be any easier. Most of us really don't like receiving a gift when we don't have one to give back or don't feel like we have earned it in some way. But, is such quid pro quo really a gift anyway? That question doesn't make it any easier for me, but it does help broaden my perspective and challenge me in a good way.
So, what are we to do with hope...or prayer? Maybe we are 'to do' nothing. Maybe just receive. When hope washes over you and in that moment you realize that it can be fleeting and we cannot bottle it up. When you find yourself whispering under your breath asking for God to be with you before you walk into the classroom, meeting room, or volunteer place, receive that too. If we try to proscribe hope or prayer rather than describe experiences of both, I think we miss the point. Hope and prayer will not be confined, but we can start to share places and encounters where both seem to be present. We can point to what our Celtic brothers and sisters call 'thin places' in our lives.
The Apostle Paul put it this way, "hope that is seen is no hope at all" (Romans 8:24). That can be frustrating for us who live so much of our lives on our senses and what we can concretely prove. But so much of life goes beyond formulas and rationality. I can't prove to my wife or kids that I love them. But I know that it is true. I can't prove to the church that I care greatly about them. But I know that it is true. I cannot prove to this world that God's love is real and makes all the difference. But I know that it is true.
So, we keep on muddling around in the messy middle where hope and prayer at times feel like they are fluttering in and out, which is why I say there are traces of God's grace all around. So, may those traces be seen and more over may they be felt in ways you know to be true. And may it be a gift.