I stumbled across an Emily Dickenson poem in one of Eugene Peterson’s books several years ago. I stumble across a lot of treasures in Peterson books come to think about it! Anyway, this poem, titled “Tell all the truth but tell it slant,” continuously echoes in my mind and, every once in a while, rings out when contemplating the nature of life with God and others; you know, this thing we call being human. The final lines of Dickenson’s poem most recently sprang forth when considering one of the more potent forces in human living: HOPE.
The truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind.
Hope can be just as blinding, I think; whether as a longing that overwhelms or an expectation that creates tunnel vision…though I am not sure we realize the power of hope, for we habitually reduce hope to a momentary feeling or a wishful dream.
Yet, hope is actually much more brilliant and sustaining than our lip-service implies. Hope has kept humanity moving forward for millennia as an expectation that there is a future and that whatever endeavor one is pursuing will conclude in that future achieved.
In fact, Aristotle noted that hoping includes courageous living. To hope and not live toward that hope is to simply wish. While wishing can be good and fun, it is never the act of actually living. Yet hope has been, and at times still is, a luminous force that shines light upon each new morning beckoning us to live for what is ahead.
But, like the sudden flash of the bedroom lights turned on to a barely waking child compelling her to move forward into the school day, hope can fill one’s eyes (even while closed) with such brilliance that all we want to do is duck back under the covers, and lose ourselves back in our wishful dreams. Again, hope compels us to live, not just wish.
So how do we hope without being overwhelmed and blinded by the future that we expect, a future that requires our courageous living? We let hope dazzle gradually; that is, we realize present hope.
Because hope is this future expectation, this thing always out there, and so as not to lose our sight staring out at the distant lights, we must couple hope with faith. Faith and hope are often related in our Christian vernacular, usually in a triad with love. While faith and hope go hand-in-hand, our scriptures remind us they are complementary, not identical. The author of Hebrews notes, and we modern Christian inscribe on our coffee mugs and wall décor,
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
The English language is often of only little aid to us in our faith heritage. While our native tongue is good at providing differentiated and particular designations of words, presumably for accuracy, we frequently miss the depth apprehended in the original languages where words captured something and did not just define something. Most read the line of Hebrews as a definition of faith rather than an explanation of faith’s relation to hope and to life fully lived. In so doing, faith is only another term for hoping, for something future. And that’s how most us live, always for tomorrow.
Yet a better translation or explanation is that “in faith, things hoped for become realized, or things hoped for take on reality”. Faith isn’t hoping. No! Faith brings hope from the future to the present!
As a side note, the idea of “conviction” here is grabbing hold of what is invisible—whether because it is in the future or, even more likely, because it’s something other than our five senses can grasp—which by the way makes up most of our existence as ones “immersed in immense invisibilities”. Faith is a pretty big deal, like hope!
Faith allows hope to dazzle gradually, allowing me to wake to hope and to live for hope as I ease into the day recognizing what is hoped for, the very things I am often unable to see without faith. For faith is something long coming and going.
Faith has a history (read the rest of Hebrews 11) and is a much bigger story. Faith gives hope a history, and hope with history is never simply a wish. Through faith, I am awakened with each new day into hope, yet not as one startled by the possibilities and expectations, but as one awoken by the morning dew, which is sufficient and gentle.
 See Cherice Bock’s article, “Hope in Ancient Greek: Aristotle on hope, optimism, and courage”, accessed here: https://chericebock.com/2016/04/25/hope-in-ancient-greek-aristotle-on-hope-optimism-and-courage/
 Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 1040). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
 Eugene Peterson in the article “Learning to Worship from St. John’s Revelation” included in the compilation titled Subversive Spirituality (89-90), argues, “…most of the reality with which we deal is invisible. Most of what makes up human existence is inaccessible to our five senses: emotions, thoughts, dreams, love, hope, character, purpose, belief. Even what makes up most of basic physical existence is out of the range of our unassisted senses: molecules and atoms, neutrons and protons, the air we breathe, the ancestors we derive from, the angels who protect us. We live immersed in these immense invisibilities. And more than anything else, we are dealing with God ‘whom no one has seen at any time.’”