There is a close connection between hope and hopes, but we must not confuse the two. We set our hopes on something we can imagine. But hope is open for the unimaginable. 

Br. David Steindl-Rast

In the powerful lines above, Br. David offers an important distinction between the individual hopes we carry and hopeas an orientation to life, a way of being open to what we can’t yet envision. What a powerful invitation to open ourselves to life’s mystery – and what a challenge! Toward the end of the same passage, Br. David concludes: “Hope is openness for surprise.”

We all have hopes for our own lives and those we love. These are important, as they inform the choices we make, the pathways we follow. Cultivating an openness to surprise and mystery does not mean letting go of the unique hopes and dreams that make us who we are, but it does allow greater space for possibility to come alive. This is the heart of hope.

Day Three: Opening to Life’s Mystery

Today’s practice is an invitation to cultivate hope as an orientation to life by opening ourselves to surprise and wonder. When we’re able to get more comfortable with uncertainty – with not knowing – we allow for the possibility that life will offer something we’re not yet able to envision. Rather than hoping for a particular thing or outcome, we open ourselves to what we cannot yet know; we learn to befriend mystery.

Looking back across the decades of our lives can serve as a tangible reminder of all the meaningful things that are currently true that most of us never could have imagined – medical innovations that bring ease and healing, technology that allows communication and connection, efforts to cultivate peace that have brought down walls and entire regimes. Do things always progress in a steadily-positive direction? We know, sadly, that they don’t; there’s an ebb and flow to our progress. But naming these unexpected and unimaginable blessings of life is a powerful reminder to trust that such surprises and wonders are often just beyond the horizon.

  • As you reflect on your own life, what is one significant event or development that enhanced your sense of what is possible?
  • How might this one experience serve as a touchstone to help you open your mind and heart to the reality that there are solutions, creations, and possibilities that you can’t yet envision?
  • Is there a particular issue in your life, or even a sense of hopelessness about something, that would benefit from opening to the opportunities of mystery and, in so doing, open the door to hope?
  • Is there a way to more fully and actively appreciate the aspects of your life that would have been only a far-fetched hope a decade or two ago? How does such conscious acknowledgment and thanks allow you to better nurture and believe in the hope you currently have?

We invite you to share your reflection below.

Deepening Resource

Eagle Poem by Joy Harjo

In this beautiful poem, Joy Harjo begins with the invitation to open ourselves to all that is, including that which we cannot hear or see. Hope is not named explicitly in the poem but lives as an invitation between the lines. What is the circle of motion in your own life, the practice – like that of the eagle in the poem, that makes space for the unknown, for mystery?

Photo Credit: Dejan Zakic