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Hope, Awe, and Wonder

Rather than launching into industry news after a month of minding my own business (and neglecting to post here), I thought I'd write a little bit about some thoughts I've been having this holiday season in relation to my own personal mythology (i.e. religion).

Not long ago I had a conversation with a friend about the futility of the universe -- the idea that, eventually, it's likely to all draw back in on itself, thus erasing everything that has gone on before and reducing humanity to a footnote of the universe (if anything in the universe is taking notes). I don't remember it that's the current popular theory for the end of the universe -- there's another one that we'll expand indefinitely, as I recall, but I've long since stopped worrying about the end of everything, as I won't be around to see it. What the conversation ended up coming around to was whether or not anything humanity did mattered, in the grand scheme of things, and whether there was any hope. I said, "I know this sounds like a cop out, but I think it's just in my nature to hope."

There is power in hope -- something supported by science as well as by common/folk wisdom. My sister recently visited the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, and a friend of Frank's said at one point that Frank thought all her family members were dead. The friend believed that if Frank had known her father was alive, she would have survived -- but she'd lost all hope. If she'd known that the concentration camp where she was located would be liberated in two days, might she have made it? I suspect so, because I think hope gives people a reason to hold on, even when they don't precisely know what they're hoping for.

I was a reader for our Christmas Eve church service out here, and one of the passages I read was from Luke 2 -- the story of the shepherds. I've sung it before from Handel's Messiah, and I had to focus on the translation I'd been instructed to read in order to avoid the "sore afraid"s and the "And lo!"s. Reading it aloud this year made me think about how a lot of my world-view ends up being rather like the way the shepherds react after they leave the manger scene: they are full of awe, wonder, and hope.



At the end of all things, will any of what we've experienced here have mattered? Will it have had any meaning bigger than just the components? I can't guarantee it, but I believe that, in some grand scheme of things, our experiences matter and our stories matter. And I can't help thinking that it's much nicer to be filled with hope that to not have any at all.

Comments

( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
biguglymandoll
Dec. 28th, 2011 02:07 pm (UTC)
As a devout agnostic, I have to say I agree. We don't know if it matters. We probably can't know. In the face of uncertainty, hope and love are the nicer parts of erring on the side of caution.

Besides, even if the universe is simply Red in Tooth and Claw and there is nothing else, then it is at the end, when we stand in the fire, that we show each other what grace we have; that we show our children a better way to be; that we look into the mirror and show ourselves that we are who we imagine ourselves to be.

"...will any of what we've experienced here have mattered?" It will matter to us, and that's what counts.

I hope you had a Merry Christmas, and here's to a hopeful New Year!
alanajoli
Dec. 30th, 2011 01:18 pm (UTC)
Thank you for this comment. It was such a lovely thing to get in my inbox first thing in the morning -- made me feel good the rest of the day. :)
jeff_duntemann
Dec. 28th, 2011 08:19 pm (UTC)
The Greatest Virtue
This concerns me deeply. Hope is the least discussed of the cardinal virtues, but the older I get, the more I feel that it is by far the greatest. Faith? I'm not sure it exists at all. (That's a separate discussion.) It seems to me that Hope is greater than Faith, because Hope has room for doubt. It may be impossible for me to summon unshakable belief in God, but somehow I can trust that, before the game is over, All Manner of Thing Will Be Well.

Whether or not we matter in the universe is a question of Love, and Hope makes Love possible. If we help others, we matter. The kindnesses we commit trigger kindnesses in others, in a sort of cascade that roars off into the future in ways we cannot anticipate, ultimately drowning out the self-limiting mechanisms of evil. So whatever becomes of the universe at the End of All Things, we will have had a hand in it. *We* are the ones taking notes. Whether or not there is Anyone there to read it, the universe is the record of our passing. Let us therefore write generously, and well.

alanajoli
Dec. 30th, 2011 01:22 pm (UTC)
Re: The Greatest Virtue
It seems to me that Hope is greater than Faith, because Hope has room for doubt.

I love this idea. Faith implies a concrete knowing, in some ways, while Hope leaves room for change.

I'm interested in hearing more from you on the idea of Faith, if I haven't already missed that discussion on your journal. One of these days I'll catch up. :)
jeff_duntemann
Jan. 1st, 2012 11:07 pm (UTC)
Re: The Greatest Virtue
The closest I've come so far is in fact my entry for Christmas 2007, which you may have missed:

http://jeff-duntemann.livejournal.com/130749.html

I have a lot more to say, but I'm trying to reboot both my fiction career and the lower level of my house at the same time. It's slow going.
citizenjaq
Dec. 29th, 2011 02:13 pm (UTC)
When we figure out dark matter, most of your questions will be answered.

I hope.
alanajoli
Dec. 30th, 2011 01:23 pm (UTC)
Dark matter fixes everything!
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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