On an unexpected Wednesday, I find myself in southern South Africa, in a rental car, racing with friends towards the ends of the earth. We drive to that place where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans crash together, a place of storms and roughness and beauty, aptly named the Cape of Good Hope. As we enter the park that surrounds the Cape, Finch-man, with his endearing affinities for super-heros, War Eagle, and goat cheese asks aloud, “What is hope? Is it an animal?” Of course, this is an understandable question from a 4-year-old when he hears we’re going to the Cape of Good Hope. He wonders if perhaps hope is something like a lion or leopard or fish eagle, the wild things we might drive to see in this part of the world.
Heidi, Lesley, and I stumble around, trying to get a grasp on the slippery concept of hope, and seeking to explain it in concrete terms. Finch has moved on because there are Oceans! Rocks! and Wildness! to be explored, and we have already shown him that hope is definitely not as tangible as lions and leopards. The urgency of understanding hope has been eclipsed by the immediacy of adventure. But I think Finch has to have a little of Emily Dickinson in him, because remember how she said:
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
I, on purpose, once visited Emily Dickinson’s house. It was exciting. Seriously. I made my friend Catharine take pictures me in front of the quiet New England home, and thought of that poet who hid behind walls and words, who lowered baskets of gingerbread to neighborhood children out of her upstair’s window.
Sometimes, holing up in a New England house, and making gingerbread and tea and writing on scraps of paper sounds lovely. And for Emily, it was a context for creativity and exploration. But generally, I think faith continues to push us out “in the chillest land, and on the strangest Sea,” to the ends of earth, to the places where Hope can seem hardest to find.
Many of my friends are walking through hard days. Loss, uncertainty, death, goodbyes, evacuations, and sadness have populated their stories. And yet, in all of them, there has also been this tenacious fight for Hope, belief that death is not the end.
I was at the Cape of Good Hope a week after remembering Easter’s resurrection story with my Serge colleagues from throughout East Africa. We gathered for in Diani for a week of training, but also for a time of encouraging one another in Hope. And I was reminded that Hope sustains us when it is grounded in reminders of a body broken for us, of a life poured out for us, of a gravestone rolled away, and a King who is coming soon.
At the place where earth ends and seas are joined, where waves crash and storms threaten, Lesley and Finch and Heidi stacked stones. Call them cairns, or Ebeneezers, memorials to close family members who have died, and also as reminders that death is not where the story stops. In Hope, even through grief, we cling to the promise and power of resurrection and celebrate the lives of those we love.
I am privileged to have stood in ocean spray at the Cape of Good Hope, and to have witnessed the wild work of Hope in the lives of my dear friends. Now I’m back in Kijabe, the Stevens are back in Uganda, and tonight Heidi flies back to the US. We are all getting ready to start back into the more normal (is it ever normal??) rhythms of our lives, and we are all wrestling with questions of calling and future. As we step away from the ends of the earth, and land in the middle of everydayness, may we, like Finch, continue to explore the wild beauty of Hope with tenacity and grace.
PS-Finch also encouraged me to live more boldly. Here we are outside of Stellenbosch, practicing our superhero poses and preparing to fight against all of the bad guys. He is the best!