“There’s always hope.” That was the phrase I said repeatedly during interminable phone conversations with “Gwyn.” Gwyn hesitated to even leave her house and could barely move from room to room because of overweight, bad knees, and the physical lethargy of depression. Three times she went to a hospital emergency room because she couldn’t stop crying. Suicide was always discussed when we talked on the phone.
In years past, antidepressants had given her some relief, but they no longer worked. I suggested electroconvulsive (“shock”) therapy, but Gwyn was afraid of the possible memory loss. As I’m mildly addicted to surfing the internet, I had read about a novel treatment for severe depression. Infusions of ketamine, a common anesthetic, have provided partial or complete relief of treatment-resistant depression in 60 to 70 per cent of patients. Gwyn tried ketamine. It worked. Literally within hours of her first infusion, people noticed a more normal tone of voice as she talked with them. Today, she is completely free of depression, has lost 120 pounds, and is active in a local church. She does receive a maintenance dose of ketamine every six weeks, but that’s a small inconvenience for a remarkable recovery.
I also trotted out my “always hope” phrase with “Rose,” an elderly friend who had been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. Radiation and hormonal treatment led to a remission of the cancer, but Rose’s sister and I noticed a slurring of her speech as she underwent the cancer treatment. At first, we attributed the speech problem to her pain medication. We were distressed to learn that the indistinct articulation was a first symptom of ALS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease. This neuromuscular disorder results in complete paralysis and subsequent death. In about a year, Rose was skin and bone, covered with ugly lumps of muscle that looked like jellyfish sending tentacles all over her body. Suddenly she was gone. Realistically, there had never been any hope.
In the real world, people get sick and die. In the real world, people fail to realize their personal potential. In the real world, love is often displaced by indifference or hate. In the real world of contingency, it’s simply not true that “there’s always hope.”
Jesus once admonished His disciples not to be anxious about food, drink, or clothing. God, he said, would take care of them just as he took care of the birds of the air and the flowers of the field. Such a naïve hope is literally untrue, but there is a spiritual sense in which there’s always hope. This Inner Hope is based on faith, is—in fact—the same thing as faith.
We may suffer from a wave of despair that hides God and destroys hopeful feelings; but God is always there, always ready to appear as Grace, always ready to restore Inner Hope. The apostle Paul tells us that nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love, and sometimes we experience a mystical epiphany of that love. In Quaker terms, we become aware of an Inner Light, sometimes faint, sometimes blinding, always leading us through our soul’s dark night.
Yes, faith may be eclipsed by circumstances. We may sometimes feel hopeless; but because our hope is God, because God IS, that hope returns to us in feelings of faith and joy. Admittedly, we do have to be open to God’s grace if we are to experience this return; and there are individuals who, for whatever reason, do not feel God’s Presence. I do believe that non-theistic Friends, despite their religious skepticism, can feel that Presence. They may not use “God” or any of the circumlocutions for God, but they may nevertheless experience the Inner Light and the hopefulness that it reveals.
Isaac Penington says as much. He tells us that we may come to believe in a principle of life by “…feeling its nature, in waiting to feel somewhat begotten by it, in this its light springs, its life springs, its love springs, its hidden power appears….” Adversity and suffering are ripples, sometimes great waves in life, but those waves happen on the surface of the Eternal. Deep within the Deep we encounter an Inner Hope impervious to the storm.
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