“My eyes already touch the sunny hill,
going far ahead of the road I have begun.
So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;
it has its inner light, even from a distance—
and changes us, even if we do not reach it,
into something else, which hardly sensing it, we already are.”
Rainer Maria Rilke
I am grateful to Taylor Daynes who in her writing recently reminded me of how much the poet Rainer Maria Rilke speaks to my soul. Another writer I came across recently uses these lines to explain what Christian hope looks like.
Hope is the focus of all of the Scripture texts that we hear in Advent every year. Yet it seems to be in troubling short supply most days. I know how much I have struggled to make space in my life for this cardinal virtue and how often it can be the first seemingly to desert me. I am not alone in that.
The 19th century Quaker artist and minister, Edward Hicks painted his famous work “The Peaceable Kingdom” 62 times and the later versions show an ever-darkening landscape and fiercer beasts seeking to live among the more vulnerable of God’s creatures. Like the wild beasts we are not naturally inclined to live peacefully with one another.
Yet hope springs out of the simplest and least promising acts—like welcoming the stranger and expecting God to be present; returning to a difficult relationship in prayer and with an offer of peace, not for its own sake, but in order to praise God and serve a greater good. Hope springs forth from children in a local elementary school in Baltimore who vowed during this tumultuous election year and its aftermath to model for others what it is to be present to one another with respect and understanding, especially those with whom they disagree.
The Hick’s landscapes grew ever-darker and the image of the child who led the vulnerable and the fierce creatures grew ever-brighter. “A little child shall lead them”, and they still do.