Waiting, Watching, Working
A Reflection on Hope in Literature
Brittany Stillwell

Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.                                         
-Anne Lamott, exerpt from Bird by Bird

I recently discovered a new children’s Bible that I love. The New Testament begins like this:

God’s people had been scattered and were far apart (a bit like the stars in the sky above Abraham). They didn’t have a land of their own, and they didn’t have a king who looked after them. God had told them that God would send them a rescuing king. God loved them and wouldn’t give up on them. So here they were, waiting for a powerful rescuer who would be strong and battle their enemies for them. But God had a very different idea. The king wasn’t going to be at all what they were expecting. He would be so much MORE!

-The Tiny Truths Bible

I’m sure the People of God throughout the centuries have resonated with this opening statement: scattered and far off, in need of rescue and protection. I think we can all claim this to a degree every year when this season rolls around. But I do wonder if there are years, or sets of years, when this sense of exile, of scatteredness, of fear, feels more pronounced. If so, I think it’s fair to say we are in one of those stretches of time—one the world has never seen before, and yet when I read scripture when I stumble across this quote by Anne Lamott, it somehow all seems so familiar.  

 Here we are again, standing at the beginning of Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas. The days are rapidly getting shorter and the longest night of the year is quickly approaching. I want to believe that when we turn the calendar to 2021 things will be better, that if we could just get 2020 in the rearview, all will be well. 

But I don’t. Pandemic projections are bleak, a long winter is on its way, our country is deeply fractured, and injustice abounds. I want a break—just five minutes of peace, where I can turn off the noise and escape. Actually, I’d like to crawl in bed and let someone else handle it all.

But I can’t. Because there is something deep in my being that won’t let me. Hope maybe. I think it is in this scattered, unjust darkness where hope begins. It is in this season of waiting and watching and working, where love is conceived and grows. Hope born in the light isn’t hope—it’s some cheap imitation. Hope begins in the dark. Hope is showing up, day after day, trying to do the right thing, even if it doesn’t seem to be making a difference. Hope is that annoying thing inside that won’t let you surrender completely, that insists that you get out of bed, even if begrudgingly, and try again.

So let’s keep trying. Let’s keep showing up, together and for each other. This season of Advent, as we wait for the birth of something new, something revolutionary, something that will change the world—let’s keep watching, waiting, working. Because the dawn will come eventually—maybe gradually, maybe briefly, but always miraculously and beautifully.

I cannot tell you
how the light comes,
but that it does.
That it will.
That it works its way
into the deepest dark
that enfolds you,
though it may seem
long ages in coming
or arrive in a shape
you did not foresee.

And so
may we this day
turn ourselves toward it.
May we lift our faces
to let it find us.
May we bend our bodies
to follow the arc it makes.
May we open
and open more
and open still

to the blessed light
that comes.

-Jan Richardson, excerpt from “How the Light Comes”

-Brittany Stillwell

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