Hope Incognito

Steve Harris


“The belief is that enough hope and tenderness will lead to world peace, one mind at a time. All nations will come together in kindness and justice, swords will be beaten into plowshares, spears into pruning hooks. This is a little hard to buy with a world stage occupied by so many madmen, and so much suffering. But setting aside one’s tiny tendency toward cynicism, in the meantime — in Advent — we wait; and hope appears if we truly desire to see it.”  —Anne Lamott

I share Anne Lamott’s “tiny tendency toward cynicism.”  Hope is not my M.O.  I look at the external world around me — the political chaos, the terrorism, the suffering of the poor and on and on and on — and I do not feel very hopeful.

I look at my internal world — the decades of wrestling with underlying depression/anxiety that continues to this day — and I don’t beam with hope.

There are days when I wrestle with whether to pursue Advent meditation or Advent medication. In the wrestling, I am learning that my experience of hope is either enhanced or diminished, contingent on what it is I’m observing or listening to.

Advent means “to come to.”  God came to us — in the flesh — in Jesus. Christ is here and he still comes to us. He came and continues to appear incognito. He came first as a baby and now in many unapparent ways also. He comes to us in the ordinary small ways. Initially, a baby in a feed trough, not as an armored military commander the people looked for. Presently, he is often disguised to our normal ways of seeing and hearing but no less real in appearing. And hope is renewed.

A homeless man extends his hand and greets me with a warm smile.

A grandson makes me laugh so hard it hurts.

In the early morning hours I stand outside and an owl serenades me with her melancholy song.

A poem moves me to tears, and my heart is made tender by hope visiting me.

I confess my darkness to a close friend, and he treats my shame not with disgust but with an embrace.

I go to Honduras to serve the poor and invariably they serve me.

I retreat to tranquil woods, and once I quiet the inner cacophony I begin to once again encounter Presence.

Teilhard de Chardin said, “Deep hope flows over deep time.”  When I focus in being and enter deep time, hope comes to me.

But it is not only in being but in our doing that hope comes. Christ is in all we undertake and therefore I have hope that my actions matter. Always. NT Wright helped to make this clear for me:

“What you do in the Lord is not in vain. You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that’s about to roll over a cliff. You are not restoring a great painting that’s shortly going to be thrown on the fire. You are not planting roses in a garden that’s about to be dug up for a building site. You are. . . accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world. Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings and for that matter one’s fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the world—all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make.”

We discover hope when we embrace our being and when we engage in our doing. Jesus came to us and still comes to us. God, grant me eyes to see and ears to hear.

Steve Harris serves on the Formation Team, the weekly team serving breakfast for the homeless, and co-leads Imago teams working in an impoverished area of Honduras. He also derives great joy — and hope — in providing absolutely terrible puns.

Christina Hite