In this season of Lent when Christians focus in a particular way on the sufferings of Christ for the salvation of humanity, I was getting ready to write my next blog on our reason for hope. Meanwhile the COVID-19 virus was declared a pandemic and in the escalating response to this crisis, my planned meditation on hope grew—but more slowly as I navigated the new demands placed on me. Like professors everywhere, I was learning to teach online video classes and answering many more emails. I was taking care of my own health as the weight of our situation increased. I was processing the emptying shelves in supermarkets, the palpable fear in many faces. I wasn’t surprised one evening when I couldn’t buy that package of hamburger meat I’d wanted to. But I was annoyed, yes, when I noticed that the couple in the queue in front of me had at least twelve.
So where’s the hope in this perhaps unprecedented crisis? Is there any? Oh my friends, much, so much! I’ve experienced so many snapshots of hope this week. Here’s one.
My first online classes worked beautifully. Maybe not quite technologically perfectly but beautifully. I was pretty much dancing with delight! Why did they work so well? The reason: I had a lot of help from my university community and from my son. So much patience and kindness were shown to me. Who knew that so many people could pull together so quickly, so expertly, so cheerfully? And my classes were fun and inspiring. Now my students could see me at home in my study surrounded by my favourite books, even my wooden giraffe from Kenya (a gift from my daughter) reading a book from where he is perched on the bookcase behind my shoulder. I could feel the wonderful presence of my students as they “zoomed in” from various locations in British Columbia and the United States—and our love, yes—as we talked about wonderful literature that has inspired millions, stories that give us so much of what we need to know.
With my first-year students, I talked about J. R. R. Tolkien, his context as a combat soldier in World War I, and how he came to write The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings as literature of hope in a world at strife. (Thank goodness C. S. Lewis was after his perfectionist friend Tolkien to finish writing his masterpiece!) We listened to a clip from the song “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”—one I like to remind us of to get the feeling of Bilbo and other hobbits rising to huge challenges with courage. For we are all hobbits, little people facing huge challenges in this world. After the end of World War II, Tolkien wrote of the battle between good and evil: “The War always goes on; and it is no good growing faint!” (June 3, 1945).
I always frame my Hobbit classes with St. Paul’s words from Romans 5:3-4: “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” We talk about how this soul pattern fits Bilbo who goes from being an easily frightened hobbit to becoming the kind of hero who has an important role to play in overcoming evil with good. Bilbo is an unlikely hero and that’s what Tolkien shows we can be and must be. Yes, through much suffering through which Tolkien’s heroes persevere, their characters grow and they experience hope. Hope that is a game-changer. Tolkien’s heroes eventually experience what Jesus our Saviour promised will be one day: “the meek shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).
My friends, take good care of yourselves and of others. Keep looking for the hope and even joy in the midst of these tough trials. Keep looking for the grace that encourages us to live in hope. We have reason to hope.
P. S. I have more “snapshots of hope” that I plan to send your way.