Hope in the flesh
“It’s much more radical, much more daring, and much more dangerous to hope.”
I walk into a book store, pick up a book and the first question I ask, “Is their redemption in this story?” I’m not looking for soft, sentimental, or even a “Hollywood” ending. My intellect demands the truth in all its gore and glory. But I make no apologies, my soul needs redemption. For me, the best stories, in life and in fiction, embody a character, often of the most ordinary variety, far from hero, who draws us into their duel with Fate. Suffering in mind, body and spirit is expected. Especially gut-wrenching it is to watch their loss of innocence, suddenly awakened to the reality that life is not fair, they are fragile and subject to an imperfect world. Doubt, disappointment and dismissal of God, goodness and hope may come to pass. Many ups and downs and dangerously close encounters at life’s brink take their toll, both physically and spiritually on them and everyone within their gravitational pull. But then there is a moment, often it occurs in the dark night of the soul where grace, disguised as sheer will, dumb luck, enduring faith, or divine agency, gives the character an opportunity, and the story has a chance to take an important turn. Our character sees for the first time the essence of life and nothing for them will ever be the same. Maybe our hero or heroine still meet their end in a concentration camp three days before liberation, cancer wins the short game, a friend brought back to life goes on to lose both feet to amputation, or Jesus, the ultimate tragic hero, is stopped by the very people he was trying to save. It doesn’t matter because they know—we know—they were redeemed. Hope was enfleshed; redemption elevated reality.
My eleven year old, Elise, just finished reading Jaqueline Woodson’s, Locomotion, a poignant story of an eleven-year old African Amercian boy named Lonnie, orphaned when his parents died tragically in a house fire, taken in by a lady named Mrs. Edna, only to come to find that his schoolmate, often sickly, suffers from deadly sickle cell. Despite the grief and setbacks, Lonnie keeps moving forward, a locomotion of love, believing that redemption is possible for him. Like young Lonny, I believe we have to search for redemption, pray for it, even will it into our lives. A scene that especially touched me was a Sunday morning church service. Hopping with music, ladies in their fancy hats and men in their best suits, the pastor a bluster of brimstone, and there sits Lonny reflective in the pew. A transformation takes place. Amongst all the noise and activity, brokenness and a future uncertain, Lonnie bends down in the pew and when no one is paying attention, this child distills the gospel down to four letters on his right hand: H-O-P-E. This is redemption. Despite his odds, this little boy chooses hope.
It’s one thing to talk or write about hope, it’s quite another to actually be hope.
Recently, I was at my 1st grader’s Saturday basketball game and in walked “Hope” on a cane. Tall and spindly, that unmistakable kind smile that I have known for twenty years, surrounded by his four young children and wielding two brand new prosthetic feet. Not eight months ago, he was in a medically-induced coma, his life hung in the balances. Everything that could go wrong for my friend has. And yet, here he is. Transformed. Hope walking around amongst us, showing us that redemption, although not perfect, or easy, or even pretty, is possible.
We need more redemption stories to be written, to be shared, to be lived. Our souls are nourished by them. Resurrections, both subtle and grand, are available to every single one of us. We, like eleven-year old Lonny, my friend with two prosthetic feet—and Jesus, are living hope-in-the-flesh.
Live in Hope,