One of my favorite hymns is “How can I Keep from Singing”. The first verse and refrain are as follows:
“My life goes on in endless song,
above earth’s lamentation,
I hear the real though far off hymn
that hails a new creation.
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that rock I’m clinging,
Since love is Lord of heaven and earth
How can I keep from singing?”
Let me confess up front that I rarely actually sing (anywhere) as I tend to sound like a frog with laryngitis, however, I still find myself moved by many hymns. And as I write this on the day we are celebrating the memory of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, this particular hymn has an extra resonance; especially in light of all that’s going on in our country.
You could be forgiven for not necessarily feeling like singing these days. But, it’s probably safe to say, that Dr. King, like Gandhi, Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Daniel Berrigan and other peacemakers before him and since, could indeed hear that “far off hymn that hails a new creation” and dedicated their lives to making it happen. And from what I can tell, while all of these people spoke out passionately against injustice, war and the many evils that beset us, it never made them bitter, hateful or to advocate resorting to violence. They truly lived the virtue of Hope.
So what is hope? It might be easier to start with what it isn’t. It’s not hoping for the well deserved promotion; nor is it about hoping to get a date with that person you find extremely attractive; it’s not even about hoping to win our parish 50/50 draw (although nothing wrong with that). And also it’s not going through life in a bouncy state of optimism. Instead, hope, which is a gift from God received at baptism, is a belief in God’s promise of salvation. Or put another way, that in the end, God’s Will, will indeed be done. Our specific role, is to live our lives in the Holy Spirit to make that happen.
A spoiler alert: Living your life in the Holy Spirit will not make you feel powerful, dominant, in control, superior to your neighbor, or allow you to resort to divisiveness or violence to achieve your agenda. In fact St. Paul specifically tells us in Galatians 5, that a life lived in the Spirit, will exhibit these fruits: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
Moreover, living life in the Spirit will also make us vulnerable. As anyone can tell you who has ever been in a truly loving relationship, you cannot love someone without being vulnerable. (Those of us who are parents are painfully aware of this.) God loves each and every one of us and has given us free will. God has become vulnerable for us by coming into the World as one of us, and must weep at some of what we do to each other and to our planet. Likewise, as we follow in Jesus footsteps, we too will finds ourselves vulnerable needing to “cling to that rock” that is God’s love in the face of life’s many challenges. This does not mean that we become doormats or pushovers, but that violence, physical, verbal, or emotional can never be the answer.
As we step hesitantly forward into the promise of 2021, welcoming in a new slate of elected officials from many walks of life, we should be encouraged by Dr. King’s Dream. And while his “dream” has quite a way to go to being fully realized, there are enough people of good will, trying to live lives in the Holy Spirit, that I might even begin singing myself.