hope is the thing with feathers (meditations on emily dickinson for holy week).

This is a poem where people know the first line but not the whole thing. Be sure to read to the end.

hope is the thing with feathers by sylvaf

“Hope is the thing with feathers” by Emily Dickinson

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

I recently encountered a Christianese discussion about the hope we have in Christ. I know it’s partly just me but when people say things like, “Our inheritance in Christ is total freedom,” I think, “But what does that mean?” This very nice lady was adamant that because we are a new creation in Christ, we (as individuals and as the communal church) should look different than the world, and she proclaimed that she doesn’t have an addiction problem and doesn’t struggle with depression because she believes she can be whole and healed by confessing her sin and believing the truth.

It sounded to me like she was saying that Real Christians™ should look different from the world and shouldn’t struggle with fear and anxiety and depression.

This is not what hope means to me. I feel comfortable saying that I struggle with anxiety and depression. I am a school librarian, I am a speed reader, I am a mother, I am a wife, I am a terrible housekeeper. I struggle with anxiety and depression. I am a follower of Christ. None of those things is at odds with the others, and to say that Christians are to look different is to encourage people to hide in shame. That message twists a beautiful true gift from God and turns it into a behavior checklist. If we are thankful enough . . . if we believe hard enough . . . if we pull ourselves away from the world’s influences . . . then we will be free.

Holy Week seems like a good time to talk about hope. I believe that radical transformation and healing are possible, but my trust is not in those things. There is no certainty that we will be healed, not from depression, not from anxiety, not from cancer. My hope is simply that I do not walk alone. The Spirit of God lives in me and a community of believers surrounds me. I have family and friends and the brain God gave me to help me make good choices. Modern medicine is not so bad, either.

There’s no catch. No requirement. No cost. It’s given freely. Not in the passive-aggressive Jesus died for you so you better live in a way that justifies his death kind of way. Instead, you can carry his message of hope and justice into the world and be an agent of change. The message of Jesus did not die on Good Friday, and it continues to be resurrected in people around the world even today. You can be swept up in this radical hope, this reckless grace, this relentless love even in the face of addiction and illness and pain and fear.

May we never offer conditionally what God has given to us for free. Hope: it springs up like a flower after the winter, it spreads like the sun across a field, it sounds (with thanks to Miss Emily Dickinson) like birdsong after a storm.


Photo credit: sylvaf found on Flickr under the Creative Commons license.

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