It’s the river of hope from the pool of tears…

Water Lilly Pond and Weeping Willow by Claude Monet

If justice leads to anything it should lead to Hope.

This is certainly the biblical story of justice; a story which weaves the bright white threads of the Creative Desire of a God of Love through a tapestry of colourful and diverse patterns of human history.

For hope to exist there must first be despair or at least, the distinct possibility of it…for why and what would we hope for if we have nothing to hope against?

This is perhaps, what the late Stuart Adamson is getting at when he wrote his refrain ‘It’s the river of hope from the pool of tears’. While his own struggle for life-sustaining meaning ended pre-maturely, he -like many other artists before and since- makes vital links through his lyrics and music with the big questions of life; questions about justice which touch us all; rural and urban, poor and rich:

High above the forest in an unseen place
Where the clouds will gather on another race
In the dungeon depths of an unknown cave
There’s a stream that springs with a world to save

And it gathers up strength as it rolls along
And it gathers up hope for everyone
But it runs to plains where the farmlands weep
Through the brand new gardens where rich men sleep

He perceived that Hope connects us all as injustice connects us all. We each connect to Hope at different times and in different ways on our Journey when we encounter for ourselves the Life-denying, Breath-taking impacts of injustice. The penetrating question he asks: ‘will we know how to use Hope to good effect?’ echoes eerily down the corridors of human history. Sustained Hope is deeply transformative. Borne out of an encounter which often provokes and requires a change of direction in our thinking, attitudes, emotions and not least, our behaviours and patterns of life. Importantly too, it requires a lively imagination. Injustice has a habit of squashing imagination and suffocating Life-Breath. We forget how to dream the Dreams of Justice and Shalom; we forget to believe that they are Gifts which are contingent on our unwrapping of them. Hope awakened and energised by the lament of anger and tears reconnects us to Life-Breath:

I’m gonna find it, I’m gonna prove it
And show the whole damned world how to use it
When I find it, when I prove it
I know that some damned fool is gonna lose it
For it’s the river of hope, from the pool of tears
It’s the river of hope, it’s the river we lost for years

The ugly consequences of injustice in our world can help to wake us up from our False Rest and we need to find and enter the River of Hope to lead us to our True Rest. Hope isn’t blind, but rather clear-eyed, tear-washed vision:

Past the chemical plant where the junk flows in
By the nuclear project where the children swim
Under bridges in a city where the bodies float
And the summer smell keeps the flies remote

…When we are awake, we cannot not see; we cannot be blind in the face of the reality which we perceive and we cannot fail to ask the question ‘why?’:

Through the swamp of a ghetto where the mission was lost
Where the dope is king and the silver boss
Past the trash and wreckage from the garbage trucks
Past the oil slick where the jail boat docks

…When we are awake, we cannot be lulled into a false sense of security by the false prophets of peace who promise power and force will secure Hope and Shalom-Peace:

To a home in some sea at the nations end
Where the submarine is freedom’s friend
If we need that river like we did before
There can be no need for it lives no more

This clear-eyed vision is one which sees injustice for what it is-a travesty of lost human opportunity to be Creative, Connected and truly Alive; an ugly hole in the tapestry of life which provokes grief and despair; a Party-Spoiler of the highest order:

For it’s the river of hope, from the pool of tears
It’s the river of hope, it’s the river we lost for years

For it’s the river of hope, from the pool of tears
It’s the river of hope, it’s the river we lost for years

A recent interview with Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann, highlights the biblical tradition of prophetic lament which  both recognises and mourns the disasters of injustice precisely because it has sourced its clear-eyed vision of  what the Community of Shalom-Peace should look like in scripture and revelation:

…the laments in the books of Psalms and Lamentations are all an expression of grief but they are also an expression of hope. They are an insistence that things cannot remain this way and they must be changed. Such prayers are partly an address to God but they are also a communal resolve to hang in and take transformative action. Unless that kind of grief and rage and anger is put to speech, it can never become energy. So I believe the transformative function of such prayers is that it transforms energy and rage into positive energy.

Brueggemann refers to ‘honest speech’ as a mode of waking us up to ‘honest action’ which has the energy to transform:

We live in a bourgeois cocoon of niceness and anything that breaks out of that is very threatening and disruptive to people. We have to work towards having honest speech with each other. When we have honest speech we have to speak out about the things that are unjust and unfair. We need a more honest and abrasive speech to bring our talk into connection with our social reality.

Whilst he recognises that we all have different responses and functions in response to the injustice and brutality in the world around us, he nevertheless draws our attention to the authorising of scripture of those who pursue ‘honest dialogue’ at a time when manipulative monologue, smoke screens and chimera have become the norm:

It is in the narratives and the psalms. Beginning with the Exodus narrative and the Elijah narrative and the Jesus narrative, they are all storied about public transformation that happened by courage of uncredentialed people. These kinds of narratives feed our imagination and give us energy and courage.

He also reminds us that ‘honest speech’ often erupts on the margins, where the encounter with the brutality of injustice and the brightness of hope are most keenly experienced; artists frequently encounter their truest voices at the margins as I’ve highlighted in previous posts here and here and here:

If you think about the Song of Miriam or those dangerous songs (many of which are in the mouths of women) we are invited to join that kind of singing which is a refusal to accept the dominant definitions of reality. Such singing and storytelling is an insistence that there is another way to experience the world and there is another way to act in the world. These are very important models and authorizations for us.

Importantly too, Brueggemann recognises that Hope, to be effective, has to be contextually relevant and imaginative in its response to injustice; which is to say that Hope dreams in Colour:

It is highly contextual. There are a variety of strategies that run from face-to-face engagement to pressure on public policy. We have to engage on every front because the issue is so urgent and the problems are so complex that there cannot be a single strategy. As we grow in our commitment to racial equality or social justice we have to be very imaginative. We have to find ways that have transformative potential.

Hope, like a river, can transform a landscape, but it needs to be channelled by vision which flows from the pool of tears and encounter at the edge of Goodness.

[Please enjoy listening to The River of Hope by Big Country and read Walter Brueggemann’s full interview below]

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