The Thing With Feathers

The American poet Emily Dickinson famously wrote “”Hope” is the thing with feathers- That perches in the soul.” Throughout the rest of the poem, hope sits and sings and then takes flight. Hope is triumphant and boastfully expectant, always waiting for the gentle wind it needs to take flight.

Hope is a fundamental component of the human condition, in fact, we seem to be wired to hope. Even in most dire of situations, we are drawn towards hope and rejoice in the possibilities that a brighter day will bring. Every prisoner longs for the day he will be freed, every student hopes for the mark they have studied for on their exam and every patient wishes to be released with a clean bill of health.

It seems as though hope gets us through these troubled times. When all hope is lost, we are lost. These statements are not baseless philosophising. Hope and our continued existence are inevitably tied together. Without hope, our souls sink. Without hope it may be said that we lose our lives, be it literally or metaphorically. You may have heard it said that someone “died of a broken heart.” While it seems like a fictional trope, dying of a broken heart really does happen. Broken Heart Syndrome occurs due to significant life stressors such as the death of a loved one, a pets death, divorce or work problems just to name a few. The rush of stress hormones leads to heart muscle failure, which if left untreated results in death. The way that we feel has a significant impact on our health. If the hopeless do not die, they may go through life as though they have anyway, unwilling to seize life with the vibrancy they once had. Hopelessness either takes or greatly reduces our quality of life.

Hope is essential to our continued existence. If we do not hope for something better, how can we ever hope to work for something better and to reach something better?

What does someone who hopes for better look like? It has often been said that there are two types of people in the world, those who see the glass half full and those who see it half empty: the optimists and the pessimists. Optimists are often portrayed as naively hopeful, and pessimists as unfailingly defeatist. The middle of the two is the realist, those who see the world for what it is, for its good and its bad.

However, if we are indeed Christians who profess to have hope in God, we must not fall into any of these options. And so perhaps there is another position we can take- expectant realism. Expectant realism means that we can recognise the world for what it is and expect it to get better because we know it was created to be. More than that, we can also expect that God will act.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had an attitude of expectant realism. Although they understood that defying the decree to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s statue would mean certain death, they knew that they needed to remain faithful to their God and hoped that He would protect them. When Nebuchadnezzar questioned their hope in the face of the fiery furnace, they respond by doubling down on their faith, replying, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up”” Daniel 3:16-17. They had hope in God and would not relinquish that hope, even if God did not swoop and rescue them they knew that He remained with them.

Hope means that even though all may not be well, it remains well with our souls because we have faith that our God will act, and even if he doesn’t, just as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego knew, we can know that he is still present and faithful. We can look forward to Jesus’ second coming and the renewal of this world with an attitude of expectant realism. We do not put our hope in the things of this world because we know that they will pass away. The hope that we have in Jesus must flourish for hope to take flight in our hearts as we anticipate the ‘something better’ He has for us.

By Kira-leigh Josey