I couldn’t tear my eyes from the Willow Tree figurine my spiritual director had added to the small table in the room where we met. She had it there for someone else, but hadn’t removed it. The comfortable room in her home is very neutral and unadorned, so this small addition stood out to me.
Usually, I find the small statues comforting and beautiful. I’ve had the parts of the nativity on my Christmas list for years, slowing adding to the crèche. I have a collection of these figures—gifts from friends in times when I needed a special word: the angel of hospitality and angel of the kitchen, both from Carrie; the angel of wisdom from Dawn as I began graduate school; one holding a lantern, a gift of blessing from my seminary small group as I headed into the unknown.
But this one was different. It seemed so ugly to me. Stumpy legs, the upturned face, the wire, the addition of a word….it stirred up such unpleasantness within me. I tried to not look at it, but I could hardly look away and focus on our conversation.
That week, I didn’t even address the issue with my spiritual director. We did talk about the dark-night-of-the-soul I was experiencing, but we didn’t use the word “hope” or “hopeless.” My director did suggest in closing that between now and our next meeting I find a word or symbol to help me focus. Immediately, I knew what it would be. The haunting figure would be my token.
I stopped at the store on the way home. The last one on the shelf….I guess it was supposed to be. When I got home, I unwrapped it and placed it on the window sill above the kitchen sink. Ugh. Every time I went to get a drink or wash my hands it stood there, mocking me—how could I be dancing? How could I have my face upturned towards God when all I wanted to do was curl into a ball? How could I hold on to hope when all that was available to me was a thin thread? What was encouraging about seeing hope floating above me, just out of reach?
Yet day after day, dirty dish after dirty dish, I was reminded to hold on to hope. Washing my hands—hold on to hope. Baking bread—hold on to hope. Scrubbing fresh produce—hold on to hope. My heart was softened as I was challenged to change my posture—flinging wide my arms instead of covering over my heart, turning my face towards God instead of navel gazing.
I realized that hope is a slippery thing. It can be the greatest gift and a terrible consolation prize. Being hopeful means we accept that we live in the not-yet. It strikes at the heart of my personal spiritual challenge—to be fully present to the moment while living with the knowledge there is so much more to come.
Hope is an essential component of living faithfully in the already-not-yet-kingdom of Christ. As I reflected earlier, it’s part of the mess and mystery of an embodied faith. Gaining “character” is not for the faint of heart, but thanks be to God, hope does not disappoint!
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” Romans 5: 1-5
Sherah-Leigh (Zehr) Gerber, works for Ohio Conference half-time as Coordinator of Volunteers, planning resourcing events and relating to the ministry teams of the Conference. A graduate of Eastern Mennonite University and Seminary, she has served in a variety of congregational and Conference ministry positions. In addition to spending time with her family, Sherah-Leigh enjoys reading, baking and blogging about her kitchen adventures (www.shergerber.blogspot.com). She and her husband, BJ, live in Wayne County, Ohio with their daughter Anna. They attend Kidron Mennonite Church.