“But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)
Sometimes it is difficult to have hope. The world is on fire, burning up from our fossil fuel consumption, our wars, our inability to manage conflict, our turning of a blind eye. The smoke of this burning plays in the background of the pandemic, the refugee crisis, and the violence we witness and experience on a daily basis. Sometimes it feels like hope really is a four-letter word, something we should mutter under our breath and hide from others for fear of sounding naïve or disconnected from the world around us.
I recently attended a workshop of religious leaders, thinkers, and writers. We were brought together to be together, to experience a meeting of minds formed in radically different ways. And for four days we exchanged our own stories of vulnerability, personal connections to our work, and the relationship between our ideas and identities. We talked about the problems in the world that we all know about — the wars, refugees, interpersonal violence — and we talked about the problems that we see as individuals from our own perspectives.
I admit I was worried about being in an in-person setting while the pandemic still rages on. I clung to my mask and brought my own air purifier, but I thought it was worth the risk. And in the room, whether it was pandemic-oriented or not, it was clear that we were all taking a risk.
In the midst of talking about all of the problems we see collectively and independently, I felt a stirring of hope. While we shed tears for the pain that these problems cause our neighbors and selves, there was a sense of connection that formed. By talking about the world’s problems and our specific pieces of those problems, and by listening to each other, we were less isolated and we felt seen and known in our pain.
In a short four days, we started to feel connected and could see what we could each do for the others. How we could be a ray of light for their problems and ask them to illuminate a bit of our own from a new angle. And this connection led to a sense of empowerment to tackle the problems that we were dealing with. We no longer felt alone with our problems but like we had a community of people to think and act with. By being vulnerable together, we had transformed our pain and our worries into hope. And with that hope comes a renewed energy for action.
This Advent, I wish this for all of us: that we feel the deep connection with each other, the energy that it creates, and that we use that hope to transform the world. Hope is not a sign of naïveté in a world on fire but rather is a sign of community connectedness — being seen and supported and having the strength to move and act in a world that needs us. I wish you that hope and the ability to give that hope to others.
Rev. Dr. Kristel Clayville is a religion scholar and former hospital chaplain, ordained in the Disciples of Christ. She currently teaches technology ethics and religion and medicine at the University of Illinois Chicago and is part of the hospital ethics committee. She is working on a memoir about being a chaplain and ethicist during the pandemic.