Early in her book, Hope: A User’s Manual, MaryAnn McKibben Dana asks, “How do we cultivate hope to face each day, even when our efforts don’t bear fruit?”1 This question is resonant in a world infected by all things Pandemic. Yet, McKibben Dana also opens the door so we can hear the echoes through the halls of our entire existence. There is a profound encounter with this kind of hope: it’s for real life, no matter how things may look. Of this hope, there is no end.
I’m drawn to the way McKibben Dana pieces “cultivate” and “hope” together, like puzzle pieces formed for one another. She asks us to consider our agency in the preparation of our lives for a hope whose purpose it is to help us “face each day.” This echoes into an internal longing for hope as we live in an external landscape whose features cause many people no small amount of anxiety. Still, the very question invites us not to withdraw, but rather to lean into the landscape, to hike through the rocky terrain. We pause in those places in which we encounter an embodied brokenness, where the eroded and cracked terrain matches the internal narrative of our lives in which all hell has broken loose. It’s in this kind of space and time where hope reveals itself as present and at work in our lives.
I’ve wondered lately if we’ve given up on hope. Given the state of the world, it wouldn’t be much of a leap to imagine the reasons. Further, the perpetual struggle in the church to read, preach, and teach hope in a way that is faithful in its attention to both contexts of word and world can prove vexing. This is especially true as the church wrestles with the future viability of its own ministry and mission. In the face of such realities, it’s not surprising to follow the church’s shift in language from hope to innovation. There is connectivity between these two terms. They are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Both operate, for example, in a passage from Scripture in which we read, “See, I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5). Though neither term is present in the verse itself, I wonder if there is a cultural cadence that suggests either could be meant. While there is space to explore how both might allow Scripture to speak anew, even at the level of concept, finally a nuanced decision will be made. What will shape which direction we turn as we read Scripture? What questions will guide us?
In one of his famous responses to a young(er) poet, Rainer Maria Rilke invites us not to be in such a rush.2
“Don’t try to find the answers now. They cannot be given anyway, because you would not be able to live them. For everything is to be lived. Live the questions now. Perhaps you then may gradually, without noticing, one day in the future, live into the answers. Perhaps you bear within yourself the capacity to imagine and shape a sacred way of life. Prepare yourselves for that. Trust what comes to you.”
And yet, greater speed is the gear into which our whole lives are shifted. What we want, we want now. What we want should be better than it’s ever been–for us or for others.
Though it may seem to be the case, innovation is not necessarily synonymous with speed. In fact, there are instances where innovation happens over a much longer period of time. Yet, the word itself may create space within our imaginations to make us believe that what is new will arrive before we know it. Hope, on the other hand, seems slower and more hidden in its approach.
We are left to discern how we might parse out hope from innovation when we come to passages like Revelation 21:5, as Jesus is the Messiah whose life, death, and resurrection are God's saving act for humanity promised, “I am making all things new.” How might we read this text–and, indeed, any biblical text–in a way that holds us in an encounter with the God who raised Jesus from the dead for our sake, and who comes to us “in, with, and under” the words of the Bible?
The question that first led me into this mini-essay was: Where might we find hope? And then I asked about the relationship between hope and innovation, and how this relationship informs how one reads Revelation 21:5, “I am making all things new.” My concern was whether we have lost sight of hope, and have given innovation a privileged lens through which we read the Bible. I suppose I also wondered if a preference toward a reading that has innovation at its center will obscure our sense of hope’s real presence among us. Or maybe our insistence on hope will leave us without agency to lean into the many gifts waiting on the other side of innovation’s door.
I’m going to suggest that instead of an either/or approach to reading Revelation 21:5, we turn to the verse through both hope and innovation, simultaneously. Hope grounds us in what has come before (historical context and present reality) and innovation invites us, in light of the past and present, to consider what this verse could mean (present reality and future).
One may wonder how hope and innovation relate to one another, then, in the reading of a biblical text. Notice how hope and innovation overlap in the present tense. Maybe instead of ordering them, we use the lenses of hope and innovation to listen in on an ongoing conversation. We are invited into this space. For it is here where hope finds us.
- MaryAnn McKibben Dana, Hope: A User’s Manual (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2022), 2.
- Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy, trans. and eds. (Boulder, CO: Shambala, 2021), 34. Rilke was in his late twenties when he corresponded with Franz Kappus, a poet at the beginning of his craft.