Emily Dickenson says “hope is the thing with feathers – That perches in the soul – And sings the tune without the words – And never stops – at all…”
It may not stop, but somehow over time in our effort to become adults, we lose the ability to hear it sing. Yes, I said the effort to become adults. We try so hard to grow up don’t we? To get the right education, the right career, the right partner, the right house, we try to then we have children and we begin to gear them toward growing up. But we know we want something different for our kids, maybe we can’t exactly name it, but some spark we want them to retain into their adult hood. We want them to keep listening to the singing in their soul. We want them to remember to have hope.
When we are children it’s easy to hope. We hope and dream and wish and in the face of disappointment we just go on to hope and dream and wish for the next thing. If we only have a 50/50 record we know that’s good enough. The singing in our soul is LOUD.
Children, at least children growing up in safe and loving homes, know the world to be basically good. This is the way they move through the world. It gives them no reason not to hope for the best and enjoy life to the fullest. What did you love to do before you had any worries? I used to climb to the very top of a dirt pile in a field nearby our house and slide down it over and over again. All the better if it had rained recently. I would watch the clouds or roll down big hills in the grass. Staining my clothes was the worst thing that could happen and I hoped with all my might each time that the stains would come out and my mother wouldn’t be upset. I had about a 50/50 track record, it was good enough.
As I got older, like all children, I encountered unfairness in the world. I realized sometimes people were hungry or homeless. I had a very minor idea about war. I knew people died no matter how much you loved them and didn’t want them to. At this stage children still believe the world is basically good but they have encountered enough heartache to know it needs help. Because they see it as basically good they also see it as worth saving. It was around this time I used to climb into the arms of a magnolia tree in our yard and watch out over the neighborhood like a sentinel. I would make signs encouraging people to not litter and pick up trash with my grandpa on our walks together. I was saving the world. I knew the world was WORTH saving.
Something happens to us between that stage of childhood and becoming grown-ups. Maybe we finally encounter enough garbage on the nightly news to lose hope that the world is capable of being saved. It mounts up and it doesn’t feel basically good anymore. News channels don’t make a habit of reporting on the good people are doing in the world. Sure they do the occasional puff piece, but happy and wholesome doesn’t sell and so we tune in daily to disaster and monsters and there’s a kind of darkness that can take root in our hearts. The canopy of which makes it difficult to see back to our child-self and hard to hear the singing of hope in our souls.
The Greeks knew how powerful hope was. All the darkness Pandora released into the world but hope remained and it was important enough for the story to be told again and again. With hope in the world the Greek myth tells us everything will be okay. It’s as if the message is to pay attention to where you put your focus. It reminds me of the “crap or cone” philosophy. Have any of you heard of this? It’s a basic way to remember you can choose where you put your focus. It was shared by Halcyon on Hug Nation.
Imagine you are walking through a park. It’s a beautiful day, the breeze is just right, and you have your absolute favorite ice cream cone in your hand. Then you step in dog poop. So there you are, crap on your foot and your favorite ice cream cone in your hand. Which one is going to win your attention? For many people the joy of the day would fall away. They might even throw down the ice cream in a fit of anger and dub the day “ruined”. Is that really the best way though? To let a little dog poop steal your awesome day from you? Halcyon says we have to remember we’ve only got a little dookie on our shoe; we still have our beautiful day and our favorite ice cream. This means life is good so you rake your shoe off in the grass or run it under the garden hose and you keep on going.
Since adopting the “Crap or Cone?” philosophy I find I more actively choose where my focus will be. Do I want to focus on the ice cream cone or the dog poop? Do I focus on the smiles and laughter of children in the coffee shop or see it as a distraction from the time I carved out for sermon writing? Do I ask my child to dance in the kitchen while we clean or am I too focused on my mounting to do list for the next day? Crap or cone?
This doesn’t mean it’s all fun all the time. I know some of you are thinking that sermons must be written, the to do list accomplished, the dog poop cleaned from the shoes. You’re right. We like to say it’s all about balance. We strive to teach the children in our lives balance. We give them age appropriate responsibilities and help them navigate managing time, money, and energy well. Yet somehow, by the time we have reached adulthood many of us aren’t balanced anymore.
We’ve been concentrating on the crap and can no longer hear the singing of our soul. We’ve forgotten the world is basically good and we see happiness as a fleeting moment rather than a state of being. What if we get back the sense of hope and happiness we had as a child? What if there was a way to start focusing on the cone and leave behind any sense of hopelessness, any notion that something as minor as a little dog poop had the power to ruin an entire day? What if we could feel what it was like to be so full of joy that there was no way to hold us down because we were like a hot air balloon? It can happen but we have to take lessons from our children.
We have to remember what it’s like to move for the joy of moving, to sing loud, to roll down dirt piles and hills of grass, to jump in leaves, to run through sprinklers, to dance in our kitchens, smile at babies and talk to elderly people we see in the coffee shop. We can have hope again. We can be happy.
I can never stay angry or sad if that song comes on the radio. There was an internet sensation of people videotaping themselves dancing to the song and now there’s a 24 hour official music video you can watch online.
Happy: a pretty good concept to be hitting the top 40 and being sung by people all over the world. Imagine how that can change and shape the way people begin to see the world, if even for a few minutes they reconnect with that level of joy. This is the stuff dreams are made of – happiness and hope. When we have hope and happiness in our hearts we dream a little bigger.
Another key to unlock lives of happiness is friendship. Children seem to know this one too. It’s easier to keep happiness and hope in your heart when you have friends. It was friendship in the Harry Potter books that helped keep darkness at bay. Hermoine and Ron were with Harry through everything, and Dumbledore felt comfort in a time of great distress because Harry was with him.
We need community to keep us in the light and singing when the hurts of the world begin to feel like too much. Friends remind us we are the light in the world. We see it in the way they hold the torch during our dark times and then we take up that role for them when they are hurting. Traveling through life with friends means never having to walk alone in the dark.
As a religious educator I sometimes think that if all I instill in the children and youth I work with is the sense that they are a light in this world then I will have accomplished everything I need to. We are lights. We are shining beacons of hope when the world feels like a dark and scary place. We are the ones who sing the fears out when our children can’t sleep.
If we are to shine bright – we have to reclaim hope and happiness. We have to choose the cone. We have to be in community with friends who understand the importance of these things. We are the lights in troubled times. Whether it is the way you can make people laugh, you ability to soothe someone who is crying, your artwork, the way you help people with finances, or house cleaning, or growing food…. These bright shining lights in our hearts, this loud song of hope in our souls, it can change the world.
(originally delivered as a sermon at UUCJ in Jacksonville, FL May 18, 2014)