|01-06-2011 - Traces, n. 6
THE FACTS ANSWER
WHAT DO WE MEAN
WHEN WE SAY "HOPE"?
THE VISITS OF OBAMA AND QUEEN ELIZABETH TO IRELAND BRING INTO QUESTION THAT WORD, REPEATED FOR SELF-HYPNOSIS, WHICH NONETHELESS FALLS INTO THE VOID.
BY JOHN WATERS
Perhaps we talk so much about "hope" because we are not permitted to speak of its true nature?
Last month, two distinguished foreign heads of state came to my country and were feted with great enthusiasm. There was much talk of "hope" in their wake. One was the U.S. President, Barack Obama; the other, making her first visit to the Republic of Ireland, was Queen Elizabeth of England.
They summoned up two entirely different histories and relationships: Ireland's interaction with England, though recently cordial, is a long, traumatic story; whereas that between us and the U.S. has always been characterized by deep bonds of affection.
There was much talk, throughout and after the visits, about hope. And yet, nothing concrete changed as a result. Queen Elizabeth did not refer to Ireland's prevailing economic difficulties at all and Obama confined himself to generalized bluster implying that the U.S. would not leave us swinging in the wind.
Of course, nobody expected the U.S. government to do anything for us and, in a more general sense, it was obvious that the chances of an unexpected "encounter" taking place over the course of these visits–as happened, for example, in Pope Benedict's visit to Britain last year–was remote, because the meaning of every possible gesture or word was already scripted by those who described to us, moment by moment, what the visits signified.
We use the word "hope" a lot nowadays, probably far more than it was ever used before. And it is difficult to avoid the thought that we do this because, at a public level, we are no longer allowed to think much about what "hope" really means, or where it comes from.
Once, the human hoping of my people was generated from a consciousness of the workings of Providence, from the promises of Christ and the evidence of divine oversight of human lives. Now, one might imagine that our hopes emanate from no more than a sentimentality generated by a process of self-suggestion. Hope, one might think, is something germinated in chance and random possibility. We repeat the word "hope" and, by a kind of self-hypnosis, seem to imagine the phenomenon manifesting itself in front of our eyes.
This is worrying, but perhaps it merely masks something that our cultures no longer wish to acknowledge. Maybe what we need to consider is the extent to which modern cultures have become adept at giving public expression to human desires in ways that studiously avoid reference to their true natures.
Perhaps, deeper down, the quality of our hoping has not changed.
Benedict XVI wrote in Spe Salvi that the distinguishing mark of Christians is that they know they have a future. They may not know the details of what awaits them, "but they know in general terms that their life will not end in emptiness."
Perhaps this is the true nature of the euphoria that greeted our distinguished visitors. But, if so, this is now the hope that dare not speak its name.