when the need for hope to come doesn’t make it happen…

just thought i’d throw this out there to see what anyone thinks… it’s a draft of a paragraph in the book i’m writing for the prison.

Christian witness sometimes confuses hope with optimism, and pastoral care with making people feel better; and the harder a situation is, the more desperately we cling to the belief we can resolve it. Christian hope is not an attitude, but the unexpected, miraculous birthing of a different possibility in the midst of death and desolation. Hope is not another way of looking at things, an attitude readjustment that is transplanted onto our truths; it emerges from within them when we dare to live our truths: to know our deaths, to feel the pain of it, to know the depth of it, as Leunig says. Most heartbreaking of all, our need for hope to come doesn’t mean that it will, which means that we cannot speak hope with the assumption that our words will create it. Our task of faith isn’t to preach hope; it’s to know how to keep living when there’s no hope to be found.


  1. Cheryl, thank you for writing in a way that is simultaneously comforting and provoking. I’ve been thinking about this since I first read it yesterday… My thoughts are too scattered for a comment box really but one question I have is the role of community. My own experience of knowing the truths of bleakness, death, brokenness and pain was that there was no hope in me but others had hope. It offended me sometimes, was something to cling to in other moments. These were no grand “everything will work out” hopes but hope that loving and weeping and waiting would make a difference. Which it did. Bearing or being hope for one another seems to me to be part of what it is to be friends… to be human with and for one another.

  2. Mark

    Dear Cheryl,
    I work as a hospital chaplain in Sheffield, UK, and find that much of your liturgy written for prison resonates, with little adaption, to the context I work in. A particular focus of my work is within the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and this paragraph resonates with my experience of being on the unit. Much as I wish otherwise I can’t resolve the situation when a parent is told that their baby will have permanent disabilities, or that there is nothing more they can do. While I believe that there is a role for liturgy and ritual to help mark such occasions I also know that eloquent words/rites do not guarantee that hope will come. Sometimes all we can do is sit with people in their hopelessness. In relation to that in 2006 the the DIPEx Health Experiences Research Group – part of the Oxford University Department of Primary Health Care – interviewed forty people in relation to pregnancy termination due to fetal abnormality. They reported that various of the interviewees raised the importance of the support provided by hospital chaplains commenting that, ‘many women found that hospital chaplains were able to comfort them because they were used to “taking on other’s sadness” without trying to “fix everything”.’ (Healthtalkonline, ‘Ending the pregnancy: Treatment, care and communication’, http://www.healthtalkonline.org/Pregnancy_children/Ending_a_pregnancy_for_fetal_abnormality/Topic/2006/)

    It is, of course, far easier to write about sitting with people’s pain and not trying to fix it than it is to actually do it.

    I look forward to perhaps reading more of your reflections on this at some future point.
    With best wishes,

  3. Cheryl,
    As I looked back at the date of your entry, I write with the hope that you are still bloging.
    It is Good Friday and Easter is celebrated this weekend. I expect that many who grieve the multiplicity of small and great deaths (losses), that this season provides a mental and spiritual transcendence that may (hopefully will) engender hope beyond one’s present circumstances. This is often hard in a time in history when hard knocks come in small and great ways.

    In my journey through trials and tribulations, and being with others in the role of chaplain, pastor, parent and friend, I have learned that often the best thing I can do is stand with the expectation that hope will arise when it seems that hope is dead.

    In my work/ministry over the past few years, I have taken more the role of advocate and truth-teller to change the underlying systems that continue to produce death. This requires steadfast hope and courage and power beyond my own to overcome powers and principalities. Practically speaking, these systems are public policies, socialized norms, habits and worldviews that keep humankind suppressed, oppressed, and unable to participate fully in God’s ever-emerging shalom (kingdom-making or well-being).

    In this season of shalom-making and hope-expecting, I bid you well.

    With grace and peace,
    David Cooper

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