Hope is as breath to the soul. It instantly comforts and rejuvenates your inner being, so you can somehow go on when only a minute ago you were wondering how you could do just that. Back in October of 2002, I led a group of men on my annual weekend “Men’s Prayer Retreat,” at New Melleray Abby, outside Dubuque, Iowa. It was a forty-eight hour time for spiritual reflection and renewal. On Saturday morning, I made the mistake of calling home. I say “mistake” because this is supposed to be a time apart from the cares beyond the monastery and its meditative grounds. I had been waiting for nearly a year to hear from a publisher considering one of my books for possible publication. I just had to know if they had written me.
I asked my wife if there was mail from the publisher, and she said, “Yes there is. It just arrived this morning. Do you want me to open it and read it to you?” “Lord, yes!” was my response. Doing my best not to think ahead, but to wait silently in the present moment for the verdict of this one publisher, all I could do was to take my stand on a fragile plank of hope. Though it was a kind letter, they declined to offer to publish my manuscript.
The plank broke immediately, and I began to fall into muffled despair. Kathleen sought to encourage me to be tough and continue to believe in my work and seek another publisher. I thanked her and said I would of course be strong and believing and seek another publisher. But that is not how I felt right then. I felt deeply discouraged, as in the “What’s the use of trying?” mode of mentality. So I took a long walk.
As noon approached, I turned back toward the Abby. About a hundred yards away from its entrance, bells began to chime, soothing my troubled soul. I slowed my pace and inhaled the spiritual atmosphere generated by the sun, the sounds and the sights of this consecrated space. Suddenly, in an unexpected instant, a gust of hope bounced into me. It was as if some invisible spiritual Presence or Person literally blew a little puff of hope directly into my heart, bypassing my mind entirely. There was no sound connected to this sudden burst of spiritual wind upon my humbled heart, as it silently filled my heart as oxygen fills the lungs.
I laughed out loud. This blast of hope came from nowhere I could discern. It seemed as if it arose from an invisible realm between us and Heaven. However it came, it accomplished its astounding, totally unanticipated work in a mere second or two, elevating my disposition from dark to dawn, from heavy to buoyant! Who is really in charge of my life, I laughed? If heaven should breathe hope into my despairing being, who am I to say anything but “Thank you!” to this unnamed, undisclosed Source which abides unseen among us? What should I do but receive it gratefully. The Mystery from some beyond seemed to have blessed what will yet be with hope.
I laughed because I hadn’t even asked for this broadside of renewed anticipation, yet it came unannounced anyway. At least I did not consciously request a restoration of my hope for the future of this manuscript, as well for myself as a writer.
That brief puff of hope has stayed with me ever thereafter. I can always go back into the memory and receive another glimmer of hope. The memory undergirds my faith in my writing. That hope said, in effect: “Stay strong and keep on writing. One day others will read your words; one day your words will make a real difference in many lives.” I suppose this is something every writer has to believe and hope, in order to keep on writing.
Strange as it may sound, sometimes you simply have to risk believing in hope itself. It is not as difficult as you might think to do this. Just take to heart what John Lennon reportedly said: “Everything ends well. If things are not well, it’s not the end.” Now that is a word of hope, maybe even of an indestructible hope, a sure anchor for the soul.