Parameters of Hope
(M.A. Thesis, Hamline University, 1994)
For much of my life I have thought of myself as a hopeful person. At the same time
something was nagging away at me inside that I didn’t want to acknowledge. I thought
of hope as being a tool of convenience. Its function was to help me achieve happiness in
life. It was easily accessible as optimism or positive thinking, always waiting just at arm’
s length. I believed that little effort was needed on my part to activate it. We all share
a similar experience in which life is reasonably satisfying and nothing out of the ordinary
happens to jar our faith or sense of security. However, we discover this really is not
hope when suffering or despair come into our life, or something tragic happens that
causes inner questioning. We then come face-to-face with the need for a deeper
meaning of hope to help us work through the difficult circumstance.
After the death of my father in October 1980,
I began to explore the true meaning of hope
more closely. My father was a simple, honest
man. He struggled and worked very hard all
his life. Although he and my mother seemed
very content with their life, I could not see
how all that struggle did anything but wear
them out. Now he was gone. Through the loss
of my father, I was jarred into confronting
what had been nagging away inside me. It was
a frustrating sense that for a lot of good people
around the world, life is actually governed by
suffering and injustice. I needed to deal with
this issue if I was going to bring a more
balanced, realistic sense of hope into my own
Within suffering there exists a powerful dimension of hope which I believe is accessed
through faith, spiritual love and commitment to nonviolence that protects the inner spirit
from harm. For me this suggests that there is a way to discover deep within the self a
source of hope that is inviolable. The source of this hope lies beyond humanness, it
comes from the love of God.
The reason for writing this paper is not to find a fixed definition of hope. Therefore, this
is not meant to be a definitive statement on hope and how we access it. My goal is to
reach a greater understanding of hope through a deeper awareness of my spiritual self.
Therefore, this may not be a typical research paper. It will be more of a personal essay.
It is about my personal journey and the changes and discoveries that took place with me
as I researched hope. Initially, I thought that finding deeper dimensions of hope meant
that I would find joy, which I defined as happiness in life, and with this joy I might
lessen the tragic sense of life I really felt and which I could no longer ignore. I didn’t
really want to accept or feel comfortable with this perspective, I actually wanted to
discard it. What I discovered is what I believe to be a fundamental principle of true joy.
Joy is able to move through suffering, and it is possible that it may become even stronger
because of the experience.
What I have come to believe through
inner reflection, the study of spiritual
writings, and the writing and experiences
of people who have overcome great
suffering and oppression is that suffering
is paradoxical. Suffering can destroy
people’s lives and give a new sense of
purpose for life. Suffering can be a
powerful motivator that ultimately leaves
you stronger than you were before.
Rather than seeing suffering as a
completely negative force which I did
initially, I have come to respect its
potential for bringing about inner
spiritual transformation and the power
that lies within shared suffering to build
inner strengths and deep spiritual bonds.
In this potential for goodness lies the
deepest dimension of hope.
Ultimately, the changes that occurred within me did lead to joy, but joy meant
something quite different from my initial understanding of it. What I experience as joy
is a greater appreciation for the wonder and magnificence of the gifts of love, life, and
hope. In one sense this reinforces a tragic sense of life by an increased understanding
of the gap between the responsibilities and possibilities that come with these gifts and
the reality of life in the world. By that I mean what Søren Kierkegaard refers to when
he states that the greater one’s spiritual awareness, the greater one’s sense of despair.
However, it is also true that I am a more hopeful person today because of a greater
understanding of the potential for goodness in suffering, the inner strengths developed
in self-transforming hope, and the promise that lies within each human being. I have
become more patient and forgiving of myself and others. I look at tomorrow as a
Spiritual Vessel (1996)
Mixed media, 22” by 32”
We are Co-Creators With God For
the Meaning of Who We Are (1993)
Mixed Media, 30" by 22"
The Art of Hope