Poore Richard's Really Poore Almanack

The last two years worth of “hometown newspaper” columns from Dahlonega, Georgia
that led to Richard Van Ingram being banned from the only news and opinion organ in the county.

There Is Always Hope
February 2005

This world is a mysterious place. In some ways it remains as mysterious for us as it ever was for our most distant ancestors when, looking on a sunset, they first realized the fearful reality of the coming night; or the first time they saw one of their own die and, unlike the animals, experienced awe and confusion, feelings that led them to seek something beyond the seeming finality of the grave.

Thousands of years of wonder have yet to escape the magic circle that tells us, in this world, there is no light without darkness. But, conversely, there is no darkness without light. Yes, the sun sets, but when night comes on she is arrayed with smoldering jewelry. Yes, we die, but even in death all peoples collectively have believed that something, somehow, slips through Death’s bony grasp.

In the Orthodox Church, there is an icon called "The Descent into Hell." In this image, the Christ, dead and in the tomb, walks down into the deepest, most hopeless place in existence, the place of no light whatsoever, and He Who Is Light illuminates the darkness, breaks the Gates of Hell and frees the souls of the damned. Even where there should be or could be no light, the Light yet shines and defies the final judgement of negation – if only we would seek it out.

It is all too easy in this world to see the blackness, not because it is not real, but because it is only too real. In some times and places, darkness – willful ignorance, hatred, selfishness, want, violence – sits high on the throne of men’s hearts.

Disasters occur regularly; the earth shakes and within a couple of hours nearly 200,000 people are destroyed, precious people each with his or her life, stories, dreams, families, all every bit as important as yours and mine.
Diseases come and mercilessly ravage our bodies, caring no more for our plans, loves, good or bad deeds than the earthquake that silences thousands in the blink of an eye.

Parents and other adults do terrible, unspeakable things to children and those children pay an unimaginable, nearly unbearable price their entire lives; and in some cases the price becomes unbearable and is paid for with the very life of someone so miserable they cannot dream of taking another step.

And on the path of a "normal" life, there are the scattered ten thousand things that prick our flesh and cut our feet, the broken hearts, rusted dreams, the thorny insults and small injustices, the everyday demands that weigh us down and sometimes leave us unable to do little more than eat, work, and sleep.

Sometimes it seems as if there will be no tomorrow and if there is, it will only be a gray repetition of today. We feel overpowered, insignificant; we feel like giving in – or giving up.

So, some, in despair, say these things happen because there is no God and the world is an absurdity within which we are no more important than dust on the pointless breeze; and many others see in disasters, large and small, the Sword of Judgement of an Angry God, a Wrathful God, a deity like Thor or Zeus, gods of storms, senders of destruction and punishments on sinful, foolish mortals, mortals incapable of anything but sin and foolishness.
But hope demands a different answer. I will give you the words of a far wiser man than myself: "No dispensations of God’s Providence, no suffering or bereavement is a messenger of wrath; none of its circumstances are indications of God’s Anger. He is incapable of Anger; higher above any such feelings than the distant stars above the earth." And: "We have faith in the Infinite; faith in God’s Infinite Love; and it is that faith that must save us."
We who are called to it must put our faith in the God Who descended into the depths, ripped the keys of Hell and Death from the illegitimate hands of Darkness, shattered and trod underfoot the proud Gates of Hades and extended mercy where no mercy dwelled. We must do this not out of some selfish desire to avoid a Hell that is already conquered, but so that this Light in the Darkness might be kindled within us, and we, in our own quiet way, can work to shatter the lesser Gates in our own hearts, the hearts of men, and in the blinded, hopeless world.
We are called to a lifelong struggle that, to the casual observer, may appear to be next to nothing or even a foolish exercise in futility. We may find ourselves, within the unknown drama of our own lives, standing with our backs to the wall like the small army of hundreds facing the 10,000 murderous beasts in Tolkein’s "The Two Towers;" and yet, as Aragorn says when told they will not live out the night – "There is always hope."

Ours is an age of violence, horror, and fear, an age that wishes to solve all questions by violent means. We call ourselves "brave" while pitilessly lashing out at anyone or anything daring to disturb our anaesthetized dreams of buying cheap, selling dear, living in a state of eternal entertainment.

It is no accident that we are asked to buy into the idea of an "Ownership Society" and not a "Virtue Society." One cannot remain miserly, merciless, and self-aggrandizing while simultaneously trying to practice virtue. There is no virtue corresponding to being "free" to ignore the needs of others, being "free" from doing the good, or being "free" to silently turn away as one’s community falls to pieces and suffering increases.

Justice and mercy are far superior in value than liberty – liberty without justice and mercy to guide it goes blind and is inevitably a destructive force. It is a light remade into darkness.

We are told there is a Light that illuminates and orients all humans, simply awaiting our desire to be oriented; and there is a divine spark quietly smoldering at our secret core, a reflection of the Eternal, Perfect Light of Goodness, Beauty, Truth. We are never abandoned, even when all others abandon us, even when our days turn evil and we are all tempted to accept whatever misfortune we have been thrown into… even when people die and our bodies are eaten by diseases or people mistreat one another or our lives are slashed by the ten thousand things.

There is always Hope – even when there is no hope.





Richard Van Ingram
Copyright © 2007, All Rights Reserved