Keeping Hope Alive: Alakananda Ma's 2018 New Year's Letter


“Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. 
Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. 
Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love. 
Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History

Greetings dear ones,

The dark time of the year is a time for hope. Light is reborn as we ring out the old year and ring in the new. What are our dreams and visions for 2018? What do we long to see in ourselves, in our world? Hope is one of the three theological virtues, gifts of God to the human soul. Our capacity to hope comes from divine grace. Yet hope is more than a noun. As poetry columnist David Orr wrote, ‘hope is a verb with its shirtsleeves rolled up.’

To hope is a powerful act. Yet there are moments for each of us when the circumstances of our own lives or of the world around us make it challenging to keep hope alive. As a writer and poet, my path is to dive into the darkness and bring forth the seeds of light. As a spiritual teacher, my role is to illumine, inspire and uplift. Yet as a prophetic voice, I am also tasked with telling it like it is, speaking the truth of our condition. And our condition is dire—in terms of social justice, human rights, the environment. One year into the Trump administration, for me as perhaps for many of us, there are moments when it is difficult to keep hope alive.

When I recall all the painstakingly crafted environmental regulations that have been erased at the stroke of a pen, it is difficult to keep hope alive. When I see beautiful, wild landscapes sullied by fracking or contaminated by leaking oil pipelines, it is difficult to keep hope alive. When Native rights are trampled upon and Black lives still don’t seem to matter, it is difficult to keep hope alive. When I know that ice sheets are melting at unprecedented rates, and wildfires raging as never before, it is difficult to keep hope alive. When I remember the utter devastation of once-beautiful ancient cities like Aleppo, Jabar, Homs, Hama, it is difficult to keep hope alive.  When I think of sixty-five million forcibly displaced people worldwide, surpassing even post World War II levels, it is difficult to keep hope alive. When I know that cities are besieged and even an entire country blockaded-- and the world does not act--it is difficult to keep hope alive. When I think of the tears of mothers who have lost their children—to gang violence, to police shootings, to missiles, to suicide bombers, to starvation, to cholera, to lack of basic medical care —it is difficult to keep hope alive.

And yet, keep hope alive I must, or in its place will spring the noxious weeds of cynicism, apathy and despair. Keep hope alive I must, or I too will acquiesce to atrocity. Keep hope alive I must, or I myself will become what most I abhor.  "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?" Hillel, Ethics of the Fathers, 1:14

Hope is a gift of grace sown in our hearts by the divine spirit. It is up to us to water and tend it every day. When I need to water the seeds of hope, I think of the Somali woman in a refugee camp who has gathered a group of orphan children and cares for them with her UN rations. I think of a little Iranian boy who, after the recent earthquake, guides a still smaller girl to the food relief truck. He has no thought for himself, he only cares that the little girl gets a meal. I think of Chris Parker, the homeless man who rushed into the arena after the Manchester bombing to help, cradling a dying woman in his arms.  I think of Lassana Bathily, a Muslim employee who, during the terrorist attack on a kosher grocery store in Paris, saved a group of customers by hiding them in the freezer. 

 I think of the Orthodox rabbi and the Reform rabbi in Auschwitz, who discussed Torah together every day on their way to forced labour. I think of Tibetans who practiced loving-kindness towards their Chinese torturers. I think of the lepers in India who invited us to share their meager supper. Every day, I water the seeds of hope by recalling the basic goodness of ordinary human beings in the face of extraordinary suffering. I keep hope alive by contemplating goodness. And I know that acts of extreme cruelty and callousness are distortions, while courage, kindness and goodness reflect our essential nature.

And when I come close to despair about environmental destruction, I remember that Nature, Gaia, Bhu Devi, our Mother Earth, is ancient and wise. Even as we inflict upon her the sterility of concrete and asphalt, she will prevail.

Did you hear about the rose that grew
from a crack in the concrete?
Proving nature's law is wrong it
learned to walk with out having feet.
Funny it seems, but by keeping its dreams,
it learned to breathe fresh air.
Long live the rose that grew from concrete
when no one else ever cared.

Tupac Shakur.

The same divine spirit that planted hope in our hearts has breathed life into the earth. Although I am here for just a brief while more, I trust that life, riotous, incorrigible, burgeoning life, will grow and blossom long after I am forgotten. And she herself, life herself, Nature herself, will continue to bring forth heroes and advocates to defend her abundance and beauty from those who put power and profit over life and love.

And for all this, nature is never spent;

There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;

And though the last lights off the black West went

   Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent

   World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

I wish you a year of peace and joy, and may the flame of hope burn brightly in your hearts throughout 2018 and beyond.