In my last post I dissed Emily Dickinson’s poem “Hope is a thing with feathers.” I contrasted fluffy feathery (I called it “wimpy”) hope with hope that has muscles and a plan. A dear friend took the time to point out the ways in which Emily’s hope lines up with what I termed “holy hope” — hope that is willing to get its hands dirty and make actual things happen.
I see her point. And I still see that damned bird, singing and singing and not getting anywhere.
And then I ask, what else is a bird supposed to do? After all, a bird’s job is to simply be a bird — eat enough calories to survive, reproduce, avoid predators, and generally fill its ecosystem niche.
So my issue must be with the metaphor itself. Metaphors are powerful and I think we should choose our metaphors carefully. And hope as a bird doesn’t satisfy me.
If a bird’s job is to simply be a bird, then what is human hope’s job? To just BE? I don’t think so.
I think our hopes and desires and yearnings have a purpose beyond simply existing. I believe our deepest desires and yearnings and hopes are holy. They are given to us by God (Source, Oneness, Whatever). They are our marching orders in the world. Our hopes tell us who we are. They lead us forward and light our way.
So here’s an alternative metaphor. Hope is a seed.
Hope as a seed can simply lie there in parched ground being a seed, and that’s okay. It still has value. A seed has immensely more value, though, when it cracks open and becomes the mature version of what it wants to be — a sunflower, a sheaf of wheat, a redwood. (I stole this metaphor from Jesus.)
We know how to cultivate growth in seeds — sun, water, and soil, with a little weeding and protecting and waiting. But what that seed wants to be is totally up to the seed. It’s a mystery, a gift, a grace. And absolutely completely out of my control. And Monsanto’s.
My hopes are like seeds. I can align myself and flow with the hope that wants to grow in my soul, or I can choose not to.
If I nurture my hopes, they will more likely grow and mature and be of use in the world. (And bring me joy, no small thing.)
If I choose to let my hopes lie dormant, those hopes will lie there like seeds waiting to germinate, fine in and of themselves, good for bird food or animal fodder.
But they’re just not what they could have been and wanted to be. And that’s a loss, for me and for you and for the world.