Havel on hope

The aftermath of Donald Trump’s recent encounter with Covid-19 is worrying.

He exhorted people not to be afraid of the disease (he had the best treatment possible while he has denied the same to other Americans).

More recently, he announced that his experience with Covid was a blessing from God.

The rise of unchecked narcissism (now co-opting God) is of great concern and does not bode well for the future.

Pre-Trump, it was difficult to imagine this. Who could have anticipated that democracy would take this course?

Some thoughts from the playwright and former President of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel that I recently discovered address this situation with a much-needed sense of promise,

“Hope… is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but, rather, an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed.”

Havel’s words expose the widespread assumption that progress just keeps on happening, almost of its own accord.

That notion brings a measure of comfort because it requires little of us, apart from lamenting times when the opposite occurs.

On the other hand, working for something only because it is good requires more. (Havel’s criticism of the communist authorities pre-1990 meant long periods of incarceration.)

Havel suggests that ‘hope is a state of mind, not a state of the world’ and that it comes from ‘elsewhere;’ it is ‘anchored somewhere beyond its horizons.’

Reflecting on his insight, I want to reframe hope as a fruit that arises from immersion in a world that doesn’t yet exist, ‘something that is good’, but not actual.

Recently at Revesby, we’ve been studying the parables of Jesus, highlighting the way they upend the known and familiar world.

Two insights correlate a study of the parables with engendering hope a la Havel.

When well-crafted stories turn the familiar upside-down, chaos erupts, tearing the fabric of the ordinary, of the ‘real.’ Our automatic response is to mend the tear as quickly as possible, in the belief that life will go on, undisturbed.

Nonetheless, something sneaks through; it is intangible.

Second insight: it is worth trying to give some shape and form to what sneaks through. Research and reading are helpful.

Concerning parables, William Herzog’s book, ‘Parables as Subversive Speech’ is a valuable resource.He explores the social conditions and the worldview of those who first listened to Jesus, peasants who eked out a subsistence living.

I am learning learnt much from it, not least that previous insights I employed overlooked significant elements in the parables.

My world of biblical knowledge has expanded.

As has my hope, but not directly because of this new-found knowledge.

It has slipped in beside it, through the tear.

As Havel notes, hope comes from ‘elsewhere.’

In a world where the frighteningly unimaginable is now predictable and mundane, we should pay more attention to tears in the fabric of life.