December 1, 2020
By Lia Benton
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
When I hear the word “hope” I have two thoughts: Advent and this poem by Emily Dickinson. The Advent connection is obvious, especially as the hours of darkness increase and the number of leaves on the trees dwindle. Yet the persistence of this poem to jump to the fore each time I hear the word “hope” puzzles me each time. I can’t shake loose these lines because the picture is enchanting. I love the image of hope like a bird, flitting and alighting. Hope is in constant motion to be found unbidden in the most curious places. It is a hummingbird, wings beating madly, feeding from a glorious flower. It is a hawk riding a thermal high above my house. It is a sandpiper scurrying to and fro on the sand with the rhythm of the surf. Hope cannot be contained or constrained. For us Christians waiting in Advent, hope takes another form. Light is our metaphor. Hope is a purple candle in the wreath. It is luminaries lining the walk. It is the congregation lifting candles overhead, singing Silent Night. Hope is the star in the night sky over Bethlehem. Hope is what pulls us forward when the night is bleak and deep, and it would be so easy to succumb to despair. We desperately need hope. Hope draws us near. Hope envelops us. And hope arrives, as a tiny babe born in a barn to poor parents, wrapped in rags and placed in a food trough. Hope is the saving miracle of Christmas. May we all find “the thing with feathers” flitting around and keeping us warm as we light the candle of Hope.