What is contemplative vision formed by hope? What is it not? It’s not formed by despair, or cynicism. Stephen Colbert once said, “Young people who pretend to be wise to the ways of the world are mostly just cynics. Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don’t learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us. Cynics always say no. But saying “yes” begins things. Saying “yes” is how things grow. Saying “yes” leads to knowledge. “Yes” is for young people. So for as long as you have the strength to, say “yes’.” The word “hope” appears a lot today. It’s become part of our president’s identity. It’s the morals at the end of stories we’ve heard growing up. And, like any word, if you repeat it enough, it starts to lose its meaning. How can we strive for something that is, by nature, abstract and fleeting? But Stephen Colbert puts hope into concrete terms. Hope is saying yes, because in that affirmative response, there is expectation, which is the beginning of hope. The minute we say no—the minute we cut ourselves off from the world—we cut ourselves off from our biologically-given ability to change our communities and our surroundings. Hope is the beginning of all things.
That hope leads to something else—in this case, it leads to contemplative vision. Thinking vision. Except, to the Jesuits, contemplation is more than just thinking. It is a way of prayer and a way of life. By immersing yourself mentally and spiritually into a situation or even a line of thought, you come upon a new understanding of the world. Contemplative vision takes the source of hope and spins it into action with an indefinite ending point. It leads to perception, innovation—possibly even action. It is a constant process that can go in any direction. Many of us have had that one teacher who pushed us to take a thought one step further, that teacher who asked us, not unlike a small child does its parents, “But why is it that way?”
In light of the recent election, I’ve heard a lot of people express cynicism either while voting was happening or after the results were announced. “I can’t make a difference.” “Things will remain the same.” “History will repeat itself.” This ideal challenges us to try anyway, to expect more, and to put ourselves into action for something that we believe is right. This ideal is the prayer that I was forced to recite from 4th grade until 8th grade: I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. What I can do, I ought to do, and what I ought to do, by the grace of God, I will do.
There was a challenge in there. I just didn’t know it yet.