Creative Commons: Cmeg
Here is a brief dialogue
between the four poets and clarions
who spoke to us on this first Sunday after Christmas
and, as it happens this year, on New Year’s Eve.
Mary Oliver (from “Starlings in Winter”:
to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbably beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.”
John O’Donohue (from “This is a time to be slow”):
No, no. “Lie low to the wall
until the bitter weather passes.
Try, as best you can, not to let
the wire brush of doubt
scrape from your heart
all sense of yourself…
If you remain generous,
time will come good;
and you will find your feet” if not your wings.
Denise Levertov (“For the New Year, 1981):
Well, “I have a small grain of hope–
one small crystal that gleams
clear colors out of transparency.
I need more.
I break off a fragment
to send you.
this grain of a grain of hope
so that mine won’t shrink…
Only so, by division,
will hope increase.”
The Gospel of John (from Chapter 1:1-18):
But look, this is hope: “the light
has come into the world…
(and) the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it…
The true light, which enlighten everyone,
(has) come into the world.”
The Prophet Isaiah (from Chapter 61:10-62:3):
Yes, hope indeed, “For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it
to spring up, so God
will cause righteousness and praise
to spring up before all the nations.”
When I was twenty-six years old
and preparing to preach my first sermon
at my first job,
as a transitional deacon in the pulpit
at St. John’s Episcopal Church
in Lafayette, Indiana —
where I would be ordained a priest —
I was stuck.
I could come up with nothing
probably because I was so scared,
but also because
I wasn’t a preacher yet.
Then a woman ancient of days,
or who seemed very old to me
but was probably about my current age,
gave me a quote.
It was from the poet and sociologist, Minnie Haskins,
whose words were immortalized
by King George VI on Boxing Day 1939
as his nation was staring at world war.
You have likely heard these now famous words,
but I never had at the time:
“I said to the man
who stood at the Gate of the New Year,
‘Give me a light
that I may tread safely into the unknown.’
And he replied, “Go out into the darkness,
and put your hand into the hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light,
and safer than a known way.”
I have no memory
of what I said in that sermon
but I know I hung it on that quote.
And I know that those words
have stayed with me
as an echo in my head
along with a few other choice
droplets of wisdom.
Our religion has several tracks
and each track
There is the one
we get tarred with —
It is the judgement track.
We know it’s heavy vocabulary
and the staccato voices
straffing the minds of anyone
they can get to listen.
There is the purity track
that pairs well
with the judgement track.
It uses precision ritual and sacraments
to protect the sanctity
of its habitations and members.
There is a New Age track too,
that declares everything that happens
happens for a reason,
and its all good.
Jesus and the Holy Spirit
are just a prayer away.
There are a bunch of these tracks
some of which you and I have trod
at one time or another — perhaps
still visit from time to time.
But standing at the gate
of this new year,
the train I am riding
runs on a different track.
I could call it “Hope”
but that word
has come to imply
for a particular outcome.
As in, “I hope this happens…”
Or “I hope for…”
Those are really a misuse of
the powerful and sacred idea of “hope.”
But hope as Isaiah used it,
and the deep vein of hope
buried deep in our spiritual tradition
that has been mined
by our greatest sages and prophets,
is not a wish.
The hope I am talking about
without an outcome
tied to it.
To put our hand
in the hand of God
and walk without sight
into the new year.
That is hope.
It offers the wings
Mary Oliver desired,
and it is the wire brush
that scrapes doubt from the heart
that John O’Donohue wrote about.
It is the light that once came into the world,
that John declared, and that continues
to light the darkness even now.
It is the “grain of a grain”
I hand to you
“so that mine won’t shrink…”
because “only by division,
will hope increase.”
You and I have no idea what is to come —
either in the nation in 2024
or in our families in the decade ahead
nor in eternity if even there is such a thing.
But we do not need to know
if we have hope.
If we trust God enough
to thrust our hand into the hand
of the Creator-of-all-that-is,
we can walk into the new year or anywhere else,
I don’t think that is what I preached
back in June 1980,
because I didn’t know then
what I know now.
But I did put my hand
in the hand of God
and walk into a vocation
and a life
I had no vision of —
no pre-knowledge of
and no way to predict
what actually would happen.
And here we are, all these
years later gathered digitally across time and space,
at the gate of another new year.
I invite you to join me
in putting your hand
into the hand of God
and walk into 2024
Trust God —
even without knowing
what lies ahead
or how it all turns out —
that is hope.