One of our church members went to France with her family this summer, and upon her return, she swung by my office. We hugged and chatted a bit, and then she pulled this symbol out of her purse, telling me that it was prevalent on their trip and asking, “Can you guess what Bible text this represents?”
I was stumped.
She started to break down the symbols—“Start with the cross, and then go into the anchor, and end with the heart.”
“Faith, hope, and love!” she exclaimed. Oh, 1 Corinthians 13, how sneaky of you!
The cross and the heart were pretty obvious—it was the anchor that caught me by surprise. I’ve never seen hope represented by an anchor, and never made that connection for myself.
I did an Advent photo challenge over social media this past year; for every day, there is an assigned word, and the challenge is to take a picture of something that represents that word. So on the day that was assigned the word hope, I posted this picture (it’s the top of our wedding cake)—
—and I captioned it with these words from Emily Dickinson:
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all…
(Emily Dickinson, “XXXII” in Complete Poems, 1924)
Ever since reading these lines of Dickinson’s poem, I’ve linked hope with birds—with flight, and the ability to sing the tune of a brighter future. This hope is light, and sweet, but unmistakably resilient.
But the more I thought about it, maybe there’s something to heavy hope.
Maybe there’s something to a hope that doesn’t flit above, but rather offers just enough weighted security to keep one from floating adrift.
Maybe there’s something to a hope that doesn’t offer us escape from the storms of life—even keeps us in the midst of them, connecting us with the pain and struggle and grief that is part of our shared human experience.
The nightly news reports have been especially heavy these past several weeks—maybe the most authentic and the most compassionate response that we can offer back to the world is a heavy hope, substantial enough to remain in the depths for as long as necessary, and yet in its own way, beckoning us to seek out the possibility and wonder of the kingdom that lies just over the horizon, just waiting to be discovered and explored.
When you think of hope, what is its symbol?
Is it a bird, an anchor, or something else?
The Rev. Elizabeth Smith-Bartlett is Minister of Formation and Nurture at Hitchcock Presbyterian Church in Scarsdale, and serves as co-chair of the presbytery’s Committee on Preparation for Ministry. When she is not hanging out with children and youth, she enjoys vegetarian cooking, porch-sitting with her husband, Jonah, and telling stories about their cats (who are amazing…just ask her!).