When it comes to faith, hope, and love, poets can express what the rest of us find hard to put into words.

Here’s what Emily Dickinson said about hope:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all

Dickinson helps me remember that hope is a quality of the soul, with a miraculous way of creating inner strength. When political divisions, a global pandemic, and personal challenges weigh us down, hope nourishes and sustains us. It’s an impulse beyond reason that whispers, “Keep saying Yes to life. It’s still worth it.”

I’ve been teaching an introduction to World Religions course at Brevard College, a small liberal arts school in Western N.C., for several years. In so doing, I’ve come to realize the great religious and spiritual traditions of the world continue to attract millions of followers because they offer hope and meaning in a chaotic world.

Embedded in these diverse traditions are stories, teachings, and — most importantly — spiritual practices that keeps hope alive in the soul. I can’t explain the mechanism for this, except to say that, for me, they are the “perch” in my soul on which hope alights.

As we begin to emerge from the worst global health crisis in many decades, we will need more hope than optimism to sustain our souls. Although optimism is often equated with hope, they are different things altogether. Optimism is the belief that “things will get better” when there is evidence to sustain such a belief. Hope, however, is a deep conviction that life is worth it — and that we will be all right, somehow — despite evidence to the contrary. As a Christian sacred text puts it, hope is the “conviction of things not seen” (The Letter to the Hebrews).

With the first hint of spring in the air, and much work to be done in our communities and the wider world, let’s make room for the perennial return of hope.

Rob Field, CSW Director

photo above by Jared Erondu via Unsplash