And I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver. I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales. [And] In their presence I charged Baruch, saying, Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time. For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.
Jer 32:9-10, 13-15, excerpt from Jer 32:1-2, 6-15, lectionary text for Sept 29, 2019
I felt hopeful the other day. Literally filled with hope. An unexpected opportunity was offered; brief consideration revealed no apparent obstacles; I emailed my acceptance. Hope then rose in me so swiftly and strongly that I had to push back from my desk, go for a walk outside. The hope I felt was not primarily a mental attitude but a palpable force, a purposeful energy that had a physical effect. Hope not as some vague possibility but as a power flowing through me, filling my body from spine to fingertips. I could not contain its force. I had to stand up and stride out, as if to dissipate some of the energy, so I could channel the rest to the challenge of the work.
And part of the effect of this experience was its revelation of how low my spirit and energy have been. That I have been sitting slumped and did not even realize. That I have lacked hope and did not know it missing.
Walk across the academic quad to the chapel. Kneel in a pew and try to arrange my hope-jumbled thoughts into some sort of ordered line. Look up at the blue of the rose window and try to pray and what comes to my lips is none of the set forms, psalmic or otherwise, but the line, ‘Hope is the thing with feathers — ’ Emily Dickinson’s poem is as good a prayer as any, I decide, so I look at the blue and move my lips and murmur the rest of Emily’s words as offering.
I wonder, though, when I get to the poem’s end. The poem ends as if with a breathed recognition that ‘never — in extremity — [hope] asked a crumb — of me.’ Jeremiah’s text — and my own experience — suggest another view. Maybe hope does ask; maybe hope demands; maybe hope tugs you out to meet it coming.
Jeremiah is imprisoned, after all, at a time when the city is under siege (Jer 32:1-2). But the hope — the promise, the expectation — that there will be a time after this, a time when ‘houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land’ — demands of Jeremiah a literal investment: he buys his cousin’s field notwithstanding the imminent destruction he has already proclaimed in the name of the LORD. Because neither ‘now’ nor ‘next’ is the end. There will come a time after this. And that time to come cannot be just waited for, it must be prepared for. Money must be paid. A deed must be signed and sealed, it and its copy placed in a jar for safekeeping. The writing does not anticipate the future; it secures the anticipation. It will come. It has been written — the energy of that promise has been fixed in recoverable form. Jeremiah’s expectation will be realized; the promised, hoped-for, future will arrive.
Let my hope be that hope, I pray. I ask of the LORD a hope that asks of me. An expectation that expects of me, that engages me and energizes me and equips me to meet it coming. That by setting out to meet hope, I may secure its realization, may recognize it when it comes even if it does not look as I expected.
I stand to go. Stare boldly at the blue. Make a last demand before I go back out into the day.
Let me write hope — putting all the vague, inchoate, desires and expectations into explicit words, physical form. Let me write hope that demands so that demanding hope may demand of me. Let me write hope that I may live hope.