True art requires inspiration, vision, practice, imagination, and patience. Something inspires the idea, which leads to a vision of what the painting or story will become. The artist works at the vision, practicing her craft on good days and bad. She allows her imagination to take hold of the vision and keep her process vibrant. And she understands that the work is finished when it’s time; she cannot force it to conform to her schedule.
Our Christian hope begins with inspiration. Jesus awakens us spiritually and plants within us the desire to live out of love, faith, wisdom, and justice. Gradually the vision of our destiny comes into focus. We begin to see what is truly important; we can almost picture what the “kingdom of God” is and how we are part of it.
But we must practice our hope. Some days the vision fades, and we have to return to the basics: God loves us passionately, and we are invited to participate in God’s life. We practice hope with every prayer, every instance of gratitude, and every phrase of Scripture. We practice by gathering together and retelling the Jesus story through liturgy and song.
Hope needs our imagination because imagination connects what’s in our heads and hearts with what’s going on in physical daily life. My four-year-old makes a statement of utter truth, and my imagination recognizes the prophet in my child. I cry in frustration when the big shade tree dies and has to be hauled away, and my imagination reminds me that it’s always a tragedy when a plant—or a person—does not bear fruit but becomes useless. Or I sit in the evening with friends at a summer feast, marveling at what a miracle it is to eat and share stories with those I love, and my imagination superimposes on this scene the astounding vision of a world at peace and feasting at God’s table.
Hope requires patience, because we continue to live in that tension-filled space between our vision and its final realization. I know I am growing spiritually, yet I ruin a conversation with an unloving comment. I watch a community outreach program progress, and then in a single evening gang warfare claims three lives. I develop the ability to see Jesus in the faces of people all around me, but I want to see Jesus’ own face—right now!
Hope is an art—a lovely combination of gift received and ability developed, of resting in faith while, by the energy of that faith, working hard to bring about the world as it should be.