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  • Symen Brouwers

Hope in a Time of Advent: Culture Care and Memories of Promise in the Global South

Updated: May 19, 2019

"Hope springs eternal in the human breast, Man never is, but always to be blest” is a lovely reminder by 18th century British poet Alexander Pope of the enduring quality of hope during human life. Hope, according to 20th century American poet Anthony Hecht, may be the only thing that survives through human atrocity and adversity. Blessing waits in the future, a promise that we all can look forward to. For some, though, hopes fade away as they remain unfulfilled, while for some others they gain a rich history, shared in communities and passed from generation to generation, shining through in a total completeness many of us do not know.


Taking Stock of Hardship Sunday, December 2 marked the beginning of Advent. Over a space of four weeks that lasts until the Sunday before Christmas, Advent is an annual church season in which followers of the Christian faith directly observe and give thought to the hardship and darkness in which the Savior is about to arrive. Hope is a critical part of Advent; hope for blessing, the light that will be brought to the darkness. The approaching mid-winter in the global north is a good time to take stock of disappointment and study one’s life in the last year. From the darkness there is hope, which the Savior might fulfill. In the global south, though, there are sunshine and heat. Do we really treasure darkness in this part of the world at this time?


Advent reminds us to take “a fearless inventory of the darkness in our world and in our hearts” – it is a time of patience and prayer, but the waiting is not simply passive. There is no drive to solutions, to take away an aggravating trouble, but it is a preparation, making ready to welcome blessing. My own life in 2018 was one of opportunity and disappointment together, but looking back, with the wisdom I have received, I can see a path running through this year, all the way to my childhood. In November it was the first wedding anniversary of my wife and I and while I was away on business a lot during the year, our marriage was served very well, by all our opportunities and our disappointments. There were people who broke our trust and people who betrayed the faith we had put into them. But what this meant was that space became available and that this was filled by the realization of old dreams I have been having since 1984 but that I had half forgotten. While a few friends have described this as a time to bloom, after long patience, I like to think of it as embodying the promises given to me. Attending to my dreams and showing care for the context in which I grew up led me to embody my blessings.


Memory and Culture Care


Remembering promise and hope, the collective hopes in our community passed down to us from our previous generations, is the essence of culture care. Some of the most basic promises given to us are the human capabilities described so eloquently by Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum, philosophers and economists studying freedom. Some examples of the capabilities are: Bodily integrity, Affiliation, and Imagination. Less fundamental promises may have been spoken into local communities and lives as well, of art or giving love. In areas or communities around the globe where darkness and hardship are not isolated, where old promises have never been met, hopes have been accumulating, stored in collective memory. A culture carer is a member of the community, ideally on its border, from outside looking in, who actively collects and gives shape to all these hopes and dreams. A culture carer takes the role of treasurer.


During this Advent season, let us not simply take stock of the past year, of the various hardships that were endured, but, instead, look at the bigger picture of accumulated hopes and dreams. Let us pray and see whether the time is ripe to embody some of these old promises. The Universe is a lesson for all and while for some the lesson may be harder than for others, it is now time to seek and find your purpose. In his early poem Adam, Anthony Hecht writes: “Think of the summer rain, Or seedpearls of the mist; Seeing the beaded leaf, Try to remember me. From far away, I send my blessing out, To circle the great globe. It shall reach you yet.” Let your hopes be as fresh as the smell of summer rain.

Sources Poem: Anthony Hecht (2009). Collected Earlier Poems. Alfred A. Knopf: New York, NY. On trauma in the poetry of Anthony Hecht: Peter Sinclair (2014). Trauma and Prayer in Anthony Hecht’s The Hard Hours. Downloaded from www.academia.edu, December 18, 2018. On culture care: Makoto Fujimura (2017). Culture Care: Reconnecting with Beauty for our Common Life. IVP Books, Downers Grove, IL. Image: Yusuf Grillo (1972). The Flight [detail]. Bonhams Auctions: London, UK.


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