Practicing Hope

Most white people in what is called North America were ignorant of the history of forced assimilation. But many are learning about it now, shocked to hear about the Native residential schools from news reports about the remains of hundreds of children on the grounds of those institutions. Are learning about the cultural genocide, the physical, emotional and sexual abuse and deaths that occurred there.

Yesterday I wrote about my struggle with guilt and blame regarding Quakers’ involvement with forced assimilation of Native children. As is often the case, I write to try to understand things better myself. And hope some of that might be useful to others. On this subject I sense many Friends share my feelings of guilt. I recognized I had a problem when I wrote we should not feel guilt about what happened in the past, that we didn’t do ourselves. And yet I felt guilty. I’m working on that.

When you are disciplined in hope, you can face these things because you have learned to put them in context, you have learned to swallow joy and grief together, and wait for peace.

Quinn Norton

I often sign messages “practicing hope” which relates to the following quotation. Hope is a mental discipline that helps you put things in context. While we should not feel guilt about the past, it is very important to face hard truths now. This takes time and attention. Cycles of failure and success. Waiting for peace.

People often mistake hope for a feeling, but it’s not. It’s a mental discipline, an attentional practice that you can learn. Like any such discipline, it’s work that takes time, which you fail at, succeed, improve, fail at again, and build over years inside yourself.

Hope isn’t just looking at the positive things in this world, or expecting the best. That’s a fragile kind of cheerfulness, something that breaks under the weight of a normal human life. To practice hope is to face hard truths, harder truths than you can face without the practice of hope. You can’t navigate dark places without a light, and hope is that light for humanity’s dark places. Hope lets you study environmental destruction, war, genocide, exploitative relations between peoples. It lets you look into the darkest parts of human history, and even the callous entropy of a universe hell bent on heat death no matter what we do. When you are disciplined in hope, you can face these things because you have learned to put them in context, you have learned to swallow joy and grief together, and wait for peace.

IT IS BITTER TEA THAT INVOLVES YOU SO: A SERMON ON HOPE by Quinn Norton, April 30, 2018
Standing Family 1900

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