By Sheila Heffernon & Bill Hattendorf
We were inspired last week by Kathryn Aubry-McAvoy’s reflection. Through the historic words of Julian of Norwich, she reminded us that “All will be well.” We found solace in her words, which in turn, gave us some hope. It seems fitting to follow her reflection with one about just that, Hope.
In an opinion piece in the New York Times this week, Pulitzer Prize winner Nicholas Kristof titled his essay, “We Interrupt this Gloom to offer . . . (wait for it). . Hope. The subtitle is “Yes, America is suffering needlessly. That may save us.” His opening paragraph is: “Just one in six Americans in a poll last month was “proud” of the state of the country, and about two out of three were actually “fearful” about it. So let me introduce a new thought: “hope.” Yes, our nation is a mess, but overlapping catastrophes have also created conditions that may finally let us extricate ourselves from the mire. The grim awareness of national failures — on the coronavirus, racism, health care and jobs — may be a necessary prelude to fixing our country.”
We are in a critical time in our country, a time that none of us has ever experienced. The collision of COVID19, the worst economic downturn of any of our lifetimes, the disastrous climate change, and the majority of Americans favoring social justice and racial equality, according to recent polls, have created a critical vortex. It seems that most of the country would like to avoid being sucked into the maelstrom and is ready to work together to begin the difficult climb out. Anger and the desire for change is fueling the collaborative work of many to build some bridges and ladders, in order to climb out of the eye of the hurricane to fix our country.
All will be well, as Julian espoused during the Medieval period. It won’t just happen, though, no matter how hard we pray, unless we hang on to our hope and find the inspiration to do the work. Earlier this week Molly shared with us that tomorrow, in the Episcopal Church, is the Feast day of some very important lesser Saints (imagine that as a title!). They are Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Amelia Bloomer and Eizabeth Cady Stanton. It seems fitting to reach back in time to hear their voices. They remind us that these changes have been desired for hundreds of years.
Amelia Bloomer was a women’s rights and Temperance Advocate, and was the first woman to own and operate a newspaper for women called “The Lily.” Even though she did not create the pantaloons known as bloomers, she was a strong advocate for women to be able to wear them, so they were named after her.
Amelia wrote, “It will not do to say that it is out of a woman’s sphere to assist in making laws, for if that were so, then it should be also out of her sphere to submit to them.” She also wrote, “When you find a burden in belief or apparel, cast it off.” Isabella Baumfree was born into slavery, but she escaped with her infant daughter in 1826.
In 1828 she went to court to recover her son; she became the first black woman to win a case like this against a white man. In 1843 she was convinced that God had called her to go to the country to testify that “hope was in her,” and she renamed herself Sojourner Truth. She was a powerful voice for abolition and women’s rights.
She once said “Let others say what they will of the efficacy of prayer, I believe in it, and I shall pray. Thank God! Yes, I shall always pray.”
Regarding hope, Sojourner said, “We have all been thrown down so that nobody thought we’d ever get up again; but we have been long enough trodden now; we will come up again.
And now I am here.”
Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a suffragist, social activist and an abolitionist. She wrote “The Declaration of Sentiments,” which was presented at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, the first women’s rights convention. Her document and the convention itself helped launch the Women’s Rights and Women’s Suffrage movements in the US.
She said, “We hold these truths: that all men and women are created equal.” About political equality she wrote, “To throw obstacles in the way of a complete education is like putting out the eyes; to deny the rights of property is like cutting off the hands. To refuse political equality is to rob the ostracized of all self respect, of credit in the marketplace, of recompense in the world of work, of a voice in choosing those who make and administer the law, a choice in the jury before whom they are tried, and in the judge who decides their punishment.”
Harriet Tubman, who escaped slavery and then rescued about 70 enslaved people through
the Underground Railroad, went on to serve in the Union Army and became an avid worker
for women’s suffrage. She said, “Don’t ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom,
keep going. I had reasoned this out in my mind; there was one of two things I had a right to,
liberty or death; if I could not have one, I could have the other; for no man should take me
Harriet Tubman also said, “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember,
you have within you the strength, the patience and the passion to reach for the stars and to
change the world.”
Harriet reminds us that we are all able to change the world. History has taught us that approaching change with hope will lead us to a stronger and more unified place. Noel Paul Stookey reminded us, in his song, “Our Lives are Connected,” that the past is the present through which the future looks. This is the moment that history will look back on and either praise our ability to formulate the change needed to create a just and equitable future for all humans, or judge us harshly for once again, failing at the task.
How will we define ourselves in this moment? What will we do? Can we live in the hope that Marian Wright Edelman feels? As the founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, she has been battling for a more just society for six decades. She recently said, “I’m very optimistic. I think we have a chance of getting something done.”
Can we find hope in the words of John Lewis, a giant in the Civil Rights movement, who worked for equity until his death on Friday? He said: “Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”
Yes, All will be well, but only if we make it so, through our prayers and our work to a better future, sustaining our perseverance by hope. Amen.
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