Summer mornings are good for the soul. With an early sunrise – just a little after 6:00 in central Nebraska – and pleasant temperatures at the beginning of most days, it’s easy to find time before the day’s activities to step outside and look and listen. For some of us, sitting on a porch or going for a walk while experiencing the sounds, sights, and smells of a summer morning helps us center down into prayer and be aware of God’s presence much more easily than we do indoors on dark winter mornings. It’s a lovely and encouraging part of the day.
Most mornings this summer I'm sitting outdoors to read the lessons appointed for the Daily Office, spend some time in contemplative prayer, and then pray the Daily Devotions in A New Zealand Prayer Book (He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa). The peacefulness of this time and the sheer joy of beginning the day with bird song and sunlight, with the greens of the grasses and trees, an often blue sky, and the colors of summer flowers contrasts with the discouragement brought on by the many environmental concerns facing us this summer. The disaster in the Gulf of Mexico as oil continues to spew into the ocean and, closer to home, the concerns about the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline crossing the fragile ecosystem of our Sandhills are in the news almost every day. Our failure to decrease greenhouse gas emissions when such a decrease might have prevented significant climate change is still there in the background (despite ongoing attempts from some quarters to deny the facts); this summer’s violent storms and flooding rains in the United States give us a reminder of what many scientists say will become our new norm as the oceans warm. Legislation that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions in an attempt to rein in the most extreme consequences of climate change continues to stall. And, meanwhile, there is a constant if quiet stream of news about plastic pollution, species extinction, etc.
This morning’s Epistle lesson from Romans begins with Paul talking about the hope that “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay” and ends with his talking about the nature of hope. We hope, says Paul, not for what we can see happening but for something that we cannot yet see. Along with that reading, the prayers for the Saturday morning Daily Devotions in the New Zealand prayer book include these words (p. 134):
Giver of the present, hope for the future:
save us from the time of trial.
When prophets warn us of doom,
of catastrophe and of suffering beyond belief,
Then, God, free us from our helplessness,
and deliver us from evil.
Save us from our arrogance and folly,
for you are God who created the world.
Hope is not denial of reality. Hope is not pretending that our actions, the way we live our lives today, don’t have very sobering consequences. And hope is not thinking that God will suspend the laws of physics and chemistry and make those bad consequences miraculously disappear.
Hope is trust that God will be with us as we walk into the future we are creating. Hope is confidence that if we turn toward God, abandon our "arrogance and folly", and treat God’s creation with reverence, we have a future; hope says that no matter how difficult the future may be or how different from the present with its many comforts, our lives and our relationships with God, with one another, and with creation will still have meaning.
Gratitude can call us back to hope from despair. A beautiful summer’s morning in Nebraska can open our hearts to that gratitude that leads us to hope.