Thursday, March 2, 2017

Desire and Hope

Today's reflection on the Daily Texts:

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God? - Psalm 42:2

We who have the Spirit as the first of God's gifts also groan within ourselves as we wait for God to make us his children and set our whole being free. For it was by hope that we were saved. - Romans 8:23-24 (GNT)

Two-year reading texts: Psalm 31:21-24; Ezra 1,2; Acts 27:21-38

What stands out for me in today's texts is the connection between desire and hope. We tend to think of desire as a negative thing: there's something we lack, so we want it, and we don't have it yet, so we have to endure the inconvenience and discomfort of waiting until we get it, or even worse, worry that we'll never get it. And hope can seem like a weak, fragile thing, a vague wish that things might get better.

Both words mean something very different, more positive and constructive, in scripture. In Psalm 42, desire is expressed as a thirst for God. Like our bodies need water, our spirits need to be connected to God. Desire for that connection is the life of God's image within us, actively reaching out for the wholeness of God. This psalm is written to address the need for God in a difficult situation. But rather than just complaining or feeling the pain of desire, the psalmist writes (twice!) about the power of hope to reframe the situation and draw strength from God:
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.
In the Romans 8 reading, Paul writes about desire as waiting and even groaning for the fulfillment of our maturity as children of God. And here he mentions hope as an intimate part of salvation. Again, desire is more than a negative; it might feel uncomfortable, but it represents the growth pains of our souls. And hope is far more than wishful thinking! It's clinging to God's promise and future vision, assurance that we are works-in-progress in a process of transformation that has already begun.

I'm reminded of a piece of coaching advice I got when I first took up running for exercise: Pick a spot up ahead, and visualize a rope connecting you to that spot, pulling you forward. It helps! The same process is happening, running stride by stride. But instead of focusing on the effort of each stride, you focus on a long, smooth view of the whole big picture. The running feels easy, comfortable, as if the effort is coming from outside yourself. There's less anxiety, and more openness. It allows patience and perseverance.

I think this is something like desire and hope in Christian life. We're called to be on the way, in motion. Perfection is not our goal, but abundant life with God and the rest of creation. And so we're always on the move toward more fully understanding and living that life. We've seen enough to know that there is joy and discovery in the adventure of the journey. We want more. And we travel lightly, easily, lovingly, obediently, expectantly, openly, willingly, joyfully, peacefully. God's vision of fulfillment lies ahead - but also reaches backward in time and space to touch us where we are, and to keep drawing us forward. Desire is the beating heart that keeps us going, and hope is our connection with the air we breathe, the wind at our back, the ground that passes under our feet.

In this Lenten season, we're getting ready to read through the book of Romans. Today's New Testament verse gives us a glimpse of where Paul will be going in this letter. The Acts 27 reading also provides a side view, one of the scenes from the journey Paul eventually makes to Rome (after writing the letter). Again, in that scene of a ship in peril on the sea, there is desire, even physical hunger, and hope in an angel's vision that everyone will live and that Paul will indeed come before Caesar. It was discouraging and terrifying to be riding out the storm, to the point that the sailors tried to escape in a lifeboat. But through Paul's eyes, we see the big picture, the way God is using him to touch many lives in many places with the good news of Christ. Desire for the fulfillment of that process keeps him going, and hope testifies to God's presence all along the way.

Whatever you're going through today, whatever terrain your journey requires you to travel, may you know the good and holy desire for God's will to be done in you and through you, and may the sure and certain hope of God's presence sustain you, every step of the way.

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