Hope, or Why God is Probably Minnesotan: Week Five of Lenten Observance

Minnehaha Falls, March 22, 2015
Minnehaha Falls, March 22, 2015

I took this photograph two days after the spring equinox. Later that day, parts of Minnesota got a foot of snow. Nobody understands the need for a holiday celebrating the arrival of spring–for a holiday celebrating hope and renewal in all its forms–like us folks here in (way north) flyover land.

Many Christian holidays align with natural phenomena: e.g., Christmas comes shortly after the winter solstice; Easter is closely associated with the spring equinox. In fact,

...Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox unless the full moon is on the equinox in which case it is after the following full moon.

Got that?

Maybe it was easier for early Christians to convince non-believers to see the light when the would-be converts’ celebration schedule was allowed to remain intact. I don’t have any problem with this. In fact, if I were God, this is precisely where I’d place Lent (towards the end of a miserable winter) and Easter (when hope is affirmed because it looks like the world will, in fact, come to life again).

It all makes me very, very suspicious that God is, indeed, Minnesotan.

Last week I wrote that instead of concentrating on sin this Lent I was going to take a closer look at virtue. To review, the list includes prudence, justice, temperance, courage, faith, hope, and charity. Prudence is sometimes called “chastity” (sometimes, yes) and charity is sometimes called “love” (always, yes) but hope is just hope.

And what is that? What is hope? According to my computer’s dictionary,

• a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen;
• a person or thing that may help or save someone;
• grounds for believing that something good may happen.

I kind of like this definition, too: to want something to happen or be true, and think that it could happen or be true.

The operative words here, in my opinion, are modal verbs: may, could. Modal verbs suggest possibility, imagine the future. Other significant verbs in the definition of hope are expect, want and desire.

Does it strike you as odd that an all-powerful, righteous God would give us may, expect, want and desire over certainty and fact, not to mention self-denial? Why, compared to prudence and temperance, hope is downright self-indulgent! I hope. I wish. If only. Self-indulgent, and imaginative, too: no wonder I’m so terribly fond of hope.

I’ve never really bought into the whole “test of faith” idea. The “Well, if we knew what it was all about why would we need God?” proposition. What kind of twisted Super Being would put us here simply as a trial of faith, knowing the answer all along, but keeping it from us in some kind of weird power play? “I’m going to see who believes in me, and the ones who do can go to Heaven!” seems kind of egocentric, even for God. Not to mention the problem of exactly whose faith we’re talking about.

But “I’m going to give these folks some good and some bad and see who wakes up every morning looking for the best in everything and everyone”? Now I’m interested.

I think it’s because hope doesn’t really have a specific goal, or at least not the kind of hope I’m thinking about. My kind of hope is also know as optimism, also know as, well, cheerfulness. It’s an attitude of, “We might not know why we’re here but as long as we are let’s do our best. Let’s be generous, let’s be kind, let’s put other people first. Let’s be everything good a human being is capable of being because we know we can.”

As opposed to faith, there’s no real reward for hope.

Only hopefulness. Which is a pretty decent end in itself. Especially in Minnesota. Especially in the spring.






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