Since we belong to the day, let’s stay sober, wearing faithfulness and love as a piece of armor
that protects our body and the hope of salvation as a helmet.
--1 Thessalonians 5:8 CEB
Talitha Arnold, a United Church of Christ minister in Santa Fe, NM, writes about hope and the ways it has been described.
"Hope is the thing with feathers," wrote Emily Dickinson, "that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all."
"Hope is a muscle" wrote the author of a book about a girls basketball team.
Hope is a helmet, said the Apostle Paul.
Always the realist, Paul encouraged the early Christians of Thessalonica to put on "a helmet of hope of salvation." It's a great metaphor. Hope is often under siege, whether in Paul's time or ours. One glance at the daily news makes hope seem naive and those who hold hope appear foolish. We often need the protection a helmet affords to keep hope alive.
During these days of COVID-19, we need some steel-plated hope to keep despair at bay. In recent days I have been asked to pray for a family given 30 days to find a new home, an unemployed man unable to pay his rent due to the decrease in unemployment benefits, a good friend’s father who is on a ventilator due to COVID-19, and someone’s mother who has dementia in a memory care unit which so far has not allowed caregivers to visit. I keep praying for all these folks and more. So far, arrows of despair and frustration keep pinging off my “helmet of hope,” but they hit hard enough I feel like a bell getting rung.
I like the image of a “helmet of hope,” because it implies hope is more than empty wishes. It speaks of a certain kind of inner strength and determination necessary to face despair and keep going. Krista Tippett has one of my favorite lines about hope in her book Speaking of Faith: Why Religion Matters and How to Talk About It:
The spiritual geniuses of the ages and of the everyday don’t let despair have the last word. Nor do they close their eyes to its pictures or deny the enormity of its facts. They say, “Yes, and…” And they wake up the next day, and the day after that, to act and live accordingly.
I love the idea of saying “yes, and. . .” to all the daily news of despair. That simple practice reminds us that the daily struggles and traumas in this life are real, but they are not all there is to reality. Beauty, community and love are also real. Sure, sometimes things are bad, really bad and it takes work to hold onto hope, but we are not talking about mere wishes or even optimism alone. We are talking about living out of the truth that despair does not get the last word.
Paul uses the image of hope as a helmet, but he describes it in a particular way “hope of salvation as a helmet.” We have to be careful that we don’t spiritualize hope once we see the word “salvation’ next to it. Again, Talitha Arnold has good words on this verse of scripture:
Paul says it is the "hope of salvation." Yes, it's the saving grace of Jesus Christ, but it's also the hope that saves us from despair and discouragement, be it about our world or ourselves.
Hope for salvation from death once this life ends is no small thing, but it’s not the only thing. Ultimately as Christians we have hope, because we trust in God and that makes all the difference in the here and now.
God isn’t a cosmic vending machine that dispenses answers to our real-world problems after we insert the correct change or the right words in a prayer. Instead, God is the energy that we grab onto which pulls us out of bed each day to do what must be done and to do all we can to face our struggles. We are empowered to keep at it, because we trust we are not left to our own devices. God is at work along with us as we face whatever difficulties come.
Most of all, that steel-plated hope that we wear like a helmet to guard our minds from despair is an internal transformation that enables to face whatever external trouble comes our way. Joan Chittister writes:
Hope is not a matter of waiting for things outside of us to get better. It is about getting better inside about what is going on outside.
In these days of COVID-19, where the usual difficulties in life grow exponentially greater, may you keep your “helmet of hope” on tight as you rise each day to do what must be done.
Grace and Peace,
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