On the Audacity to Hope

This article originally appeared on The Relentless Theologian.
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I remember back when Barack Obama was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination and his book The Audacity of Hope came out. Just the title alone interested me; plus I wanted to learn a bit more about this candidate.  I went to a library and put my name on the waiting list for it and then was able to check the book out.  Unfortunately, like I have a habit of doing, I checked out too many books at once and didn’t actually get to read the book! Yet the title alone has continued to reverberate in my mind.
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The Audacity of Hope; audacity means bold, daring, brave, and courageous.  In the phrase, audacity describes and gives further meaning to the word hope.  Hope is bold, hope is daring, hope is brave, and hope is courageous.
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Think about the word hope.  We name our daughters Hope; we hope things work out; but do we know what it means to really hope?  I really like the name Hope for a potential daughter (are you reading wife?).  And of course, Hope Solo is very attractive, but beyond a name, what does it mean to us?  We often use the word hope as a synonym for “wish.”   I hope I’ll be able to make it; hopefully I plan on being there.  Hope is an aspiration or an expectation.   I don’t think those words reach the depth present within the word hope.
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When I think about the audacity of hope I also think about the audacity to hope.  Hoping is bold, courageous, daring.  Somehow saying “I hope I'll make it over tonight” cheapens the word.   I’ve come to understand hope, and the audacity to hope as something deeper, something stronger, something that reaches the very core of our being.
The capacity to hope is something most of us take for granted; many of us are optimistic and our culture certainly encourages us to think things will “work out.”  I think many of us take hope for granted; we assume hope will always be there, except when it isn’t for some of us...
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You can’t understand the preciousness of hope, the pricelessness of hope until hope doesn’t come--when hope isn’t there.  How can one describe the absence of hope?  Be it uncertainty, fear, indecision, the dearth of hope can often manifest itself in ways much deeper and harder to describe.  Just as hope can reach the very core of our being, the lack of hope can shake us to the core, shake us to the point we no longer know which side is up or down.
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How can you put this feeling into words?  How can you explain the sheer terror and apprehension of risking, of putting oneself out there? How can one portray feelings that convince one that meaningful relationships will always end?  How can one illustrate what it’s like to grow up in utter poverty?  How can one give voice to the feelings of despair that one falls asleep to at night and wakes up with in the morning?  How does one share what it's like when simply existing seems like a constant struggle?
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Perhaps the most difficult thing about hope is that it’s not a commodity; it can’t be bought; it can’t be achieved; it can’t be acquired; it can only be earned. And when one has lost such hope, it takes real audacity, flat out crazy, bold, courageousness to even begin to gain it back. This is where the audacity to hope fits in; for one must be bold, one must be courageous, one must be relentless.
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Regaining hope can only be gained in small steps, in risking, in being vulnerable. That may look like getting out of bed some mornings, or smiling, or just simply keeping on.  It may be sharing ourselves when we really just want to close ourselves off, it may be doing something that scares the shit out of us and causes our insides to quake, and it may be living like love is possible and love can be for a lifetime.  Hope is daring, hope is bold, and hope is courageous. Even taking small, infantile steps are in fact signs of enormous audacity.
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Perhaps the only good thing about lacking hope is appreciating the sheer value of hope.  It’s something I wouldn’t take away from my worst enemy and that I would wish for everyone in the world to have.   If we can learn anything, it is that hope is precious and of immense value, but it can also be fragile, breakable, even losable. But we must remember, hope is bold, hope is courageous, and hope is daring. And for those among us who have been lacking in or perhaps even completely without, we must remember that when we choose to exist, we choose to go on, we are being utterly, fantastically, immensely hopeful; and these audacious, ridiculous, daring, courageous acts will only strengthen the resolve of the hope within each one of us.