Yesterday I met a South African friend as she passed briefly through Oxford. Catching up on her news inevitably meant hearing something of the many difficulties currently besetting her country and the people with whom she works. But then, aware that South Africa is just one small part of a huge suffering world, we moved on to the plight of desperate people drowning in their hundreds in the Mediterranean, to atrocities in Syria and the Middle East, to an unspoken acknowledgement of war, oppression and violence on every continent... What, we wondered hopelessly, had become of our world?
The daily news does indeed make it easy to lose hope. And yet, here in the northern hemisphere, nature - as if inhabiting a completely different world - speaks to us daily of new life and hope. From my desk I can see our magnolia, now sadly past its spring glory, with more petals on the ground than still on its branches; and the wisteria, to which the seasonal baton has been passed. Until a week or so ago it was just a mass of dry, contorted twigs, many coiled tenaciously around railings and pipes, but now... now it's a little hive of sunlit spring activity, sprouting buds and foliage, holding out the hope and promise of cascading lilac loveliness in just a few weeks' time.
As I wondered how to reconcile these two realities a line from Janet Stuart's poem Spirit Seeking came to me: Hope, and grasp the unseen hand. These words have always spoken to me of the prayer of faith, of reaching out in faith and longing to an unseen, unfelt God; of hope, and trust, despite reason's decrees. But today they speak to me of something more: of holding on to hope and belief in the enduring power of goodness and renewal, in the face of all the evidence for despair.
Of all virtues that we can least afford to lose hold of in our time that of HOPE seems to be the most needed... (Janet Stuart)