Voices of Hope

Written by Mary Rearick Paul
From her column Dwelling with God

Rev. Sylvia Cortez and husband Volodymyr (front center)
with friends on Easter 2022. In the background is the city of Kyiv.

At a recent conference, Bryan Stevenson said, “It is easier to be faithful than hopeful.”[1] He went on to challenge the church to be vocal in our hopefulness. This was one of those awakening moments for me. I was able to hear it in louder ways because it came from a man who has witnessed death and destruction and carries the scars of that work. He is the author of Just Mercy. More importantly he is the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative.[2] He had shared stories of victory where he could see God answer prayers, as well as the times he had to call someone on death row, with great despair, and say, “Our appeals are exhausted.” As I listened to his presentation, the witness of the Holy Spirit in my own inner being was a question: “Mary, where is your hopeful voice?”

As I walked through the losses of the last few years, I have leaned into the language of faithfulness. In all the shifts that I found distressing and/or challenging, I prayed for the strength to be faithful to the day. This commitment isn’t bad in itself, but my hope had in some ways dimmed. This diminished hope was not just for my own life circumstances and challenges but for the world with all its mess, divisions and violence. Squelched hope eventually begins to eat away at the soul. It creates the danger of ultimately losing belief in the promises of God.

I was recently re-reading the first chapter of Peter and noted the repeated language of hope. This letter is addressed to communities who have known dislocation, loss, and pain. These Christian communities included diaspora Jews (refugees from their homelands). This refugee status was so strong that the author of 1 Peter could refer to the whole group as “God’s chosen strangers or exiles.”[3] They settled in the land, worked and paid taxes, but could not inherit property and were denied certain legal protections. All of this paints a people who knew great vulnerability.

We are bound together in a living hope, receiving and proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ which we know only in part.

It is into this reality the assurance offered is that God sees them, they are chosen, they have a living hope. There is an assurance that they have an inheritance from God that is protected, for all that they have received in the name of Jesus cannot be taken away.

A gift received that is theirs in all circumstances is new birth. The word for new birth found in 1 Peter carries the meaning of born anew, begotten, or regenerated. This life, and therefore this hope, is not a one-time event but an ongoing renewal of our spirits. It is okay if our hope has grown dim, we are able to invite God to blow on the remaining embers that our hope might be renewed and that our lives and voices would give witness to our hope in Christ.

My hope is informed by the voices of hope offered by faithful Christians who are in far more dire situations than I face. These voices give witness to the power of the resurrection and therefore to our hope in Christ in all situations.

An important voice in recent days has been from Rev. Sylvia Cortez, a friend who serves the church in Ukraine and, at the time of writing this article, is a refugee in Poland. The breadth of her printed words has been one of grief, call to action, and despair, but also of a living hope. She says:

  • I know that many are struggling in their faith at such horrors. They wonder why God is silent…is God uninterested? But I don’t believe that God has been silent. I think God is listening and responding somehow to the millions of prayers. I believe that there have been miracles. I believe God has been speaking and acting and comforting and changing the trajectory of evil men and women through the people of God.
  • “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer). I believe there are numerous men and women attempting to figure out how to do this. I also believe in the power of the Eucharist to be a powerful testament to our continued faith amidst horrendous tragedies. We lean on this embodied practice not just to look back but to look forward.
  • Whereas madmen strive to kill and separate us, to forever set us in a place of fear, the Eucharist proclaims a different way. It binds the church physically and spiritually together in hope. It is a form of resistance against terrorist regimes that seek to divide and proclaims a future we cannot fully yet see.[4]

We are bound together in a living hope, receiving and proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ which we know only in part, and we walk together into a future we cannot fully see. And together we sing with fellow Christians across all situations and the ages: “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.”[5]

Mary Rearick Paul, D.Min., is vice president of student life and formation at Point Loma Nazarene University.

[1] Bryan Stevenson, CCCU Conference February 2022
[2] https://eji.org/bryan-stevenson/
[3] 1 Peter 1:1 (CEB)
[4] March 12, 2022 Facebook Post, Sylvia Cortez
[5] “Solid Rock, Edward Mote, 1834, public domain