‘Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.’ (Desmond Tutu)
‘Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul – and sings the tunes without the words – and never stops at all.’ (Emily Dickinson)
HOM: Thinking about Thinking
Desmond Tutu, author of this week’s quote, was one of the greats and someone I had the privilege to hear speak in Oxford some years ago. I attended with my then A Level pupils and for the first five minutes before he even spoke, he was welcomed with a standing ovation. Here was a person who truly lit up the room by his mere presence and there are few people about whom that can be said. There was something about Bishop Desmond Tutu that was the embodiment of hope as well as someone who spoke words of hope.
It was Tutu who after the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa, was made chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). To address the divisions caused by human rights abuses during the regime, the TRC set about the process of reconciliation in the African spirit of ubantu (meaning humanity, sometimes translated as I am because you are) and the Christian spirit of forgiveness. The committee heard the voices of those previously silenced and so began the healing of the ‘rainbow nation’. Despite the darkness of the times the light of hope was visible.
At this darkest time of the year light features in many of our religious festivals. Hindus and Sikhs have lit the lamps of Diwali and soon Christians will light their advent candles, followed by Jewish families who will light their Chanukiah’s in celebration of Channukah. All these remind us of the power of light as a symbol of hope in this darkest time of the year. A light enables us to see the way forward, brings comfort when we may feel afraid and illuminates both the good and bad, calling forth the need for change. Fundamentally, it symbolises hope and for Christians hope comes in an embodied form, as Jesus Christ. It also continues to be an embodied reality in the work of those like Desmond Tutu, who act for justice and reconciliation and in all those who seek to alleviate poverty and suffering. As Tutu said ‘hope is being able to see that there is a light despite all the darkness’, and that is surely something we all need at this present time.