Prisoners of Hope

Thursday, April 16, 2015 - 5:59 am

Prisoners of Hope

One of my favorite verses in the Bible is a line in Zechariah, often overlooked:

Return to your fortress,
O you prisoners of hope;
even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you.

Hope is powerful. Hope is different. It is more, much more, than mere optimism.

Optimism runs deep in the American consciousness. Many have commented on the inherent optimism of the American people. But optimism is….cheap.

Optimism is ultimately about optics, about how we see the world. It’s about seeing the glass half-full.

Hope is different. Hope is a cosmic quality. Hope is rooted in faith, with feet mired in suffering. Hope is a heart in agony that yearns for liberation.

As Desmond Tutu says, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” For hope to exist, there has to be darkness. For hope to be real, there has to be a prison. And we, in the prison.

Return to your fortress,
O you prisoners of hope.

Hope is tied not to how we see the world, but to the faith we have in how the world actually is and will be.

Hope is not about seeing the world, but about the heart behind the eye, the soul that sees.

We hope that light will, someday, triumph over darkness, that love will gain victory over hatred, that compassion will gain over apathy.

We need to hope, to bear the darkness.

Return to your fortress,
O you prisoners of hope.

Hope is not a choice. Hope is not optics. Hope is not mere politics. We are wrapped up in hope. Caught up in hope. Imprisoned in hope.

Return to your fortress,
O you prisoners of hope.

We hope in the moral goodness of the universe. We hope in the goodness of God. We hope in the victory of good over evil. We hope, even if we may not get to see the triumph.

Hope is planting a tree, knowing that we will be feeding the warms under the tree’s ground before the tree yields fruit.

Hope, real hope, not cheap optimism, mingles with suffering. Hope, real hope, has nothing Pollyannaish about it.
Hope recognizes the chains around our feet,
hope yearns for liberation in the very midst of the prison.
Hope sees the rays of light in the depth of the dark night.

Hope is an active act of faith, refusing to surrender.

Return to your fortress.
O you prisoners of hope.

Fortress is not a zip code. Fortress has no walls and moats. Fortress is a commitment to God and humanity, to the poor and to beauty. It is in this fortress that we, the prisoners, find hope.

We hope because without hope life would not be bearable.

Go back to your fortresses,
O you prisoners of hope.

In the “go back”, I hear the voice of Martin. “Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana.”

Go back to your fortress, o you prisoners of hope.
“Go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.”

Go back to your fortress,
O you prisoners of hope.

Today, we say,

Go back to your fortress,
O you prisoners of hope.

Go back to Ferguson. Go back to Staten Island. Go back to South Carolina. Go back to Chapel Hill. Go back to Syria. Go back to Palestine.

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.
Let us climb on ahead to the promised land of justice.

This is our hope. For us, the prisoners of hope.

Share Post

Contributor

is a columnist for On Being. His column appears every Thursday.

He is Director of Duke University’s Islamic Studies Center. He is the past Chair for the Study of Islam, and the current Chair for Islamic Mysticism Group at the American Academy of Religion. In 2009, he was recognized by the University of North Carolina for mentoring minority students in 2009, and won the Sitterson Teaching Award for Professor of the Year in April of 2010.

Omid is the editor of the volume Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender, and Pluralism, which offered an understanding of Islam rooted in social justice, gender equality, and religious and ethnic pluralism. His works Politics of Knowledge in Premodern Islam, dealing with medieval Islamic history and politics, and Voices of Islam: Voices of Change were published 2006. His last book, Memories of Muhammad, deals with the biography and legacy of the Prophet Muhammad. He has forthcoming volumes on the famed mystic Rumi, contemporary Islamic debates in Iran, and American Islam.

Omid has been among the most frequently sought speakers on Islam in popular media, appearing in The New York TimesNewsweekWashington Post, PBS, NPR, NBC, CNN and other international media. He leads an educational tour every summer to Turkey, to study the rich multiple religious traditions there. The trip is open to everyone, from every country. More information at Illuminated Tours.

Share Your Reflection

Reflections