But have you ever had a moment of hope? Irrational, bright, for-no-reason-and-yet? hope, like sun suddenly bursting through cloud, scattering silver like some crazed benefactor?
Ever felt that, despite everything, “all will be well and all manner of thing shall be well”? The moment may be fleeting – but it touches something real?
Some Thursday nights, we invite friends over to join in our community for the evening; we eat, talk, and laugh together.
Often, on such evenings, I read to everyone before dinner. It gives us a focal point before we thank God and eat. What I choose to read varies widely. Sometimes it will be overtly “Christian” or “spiritual” – Little Miss Sunshine or some other spiritual masterwork – sometimes less so.
Last night I read a short passage from Hilary Mantel’s prize-winning novel, Wolf Hall, which tells the story of Thomas Cromwell’s rise to prominence in Henry VIII's court.
The passage I read is from an early part of the novel. Cromwell is emerging painfully from a bleak time. His patron, influential but disgraced Cardinal Wolsey, has died. Cromwell himself may be finished. But opportunity is opening for him: if he champions the king’s prospective new wife, Anna Boleyn, there may be a future for him, a role. The passage describes the moment when Cromwell himself perceives this after his first encounter with Anne.
There was a moment when Anne gave him all her attention: her skewering dark glance. The king, too, knows how to look; blue eyes, their mildness deceptive. Is this how they look at each other? Or in some other way? For a second he understands it; then he doesn’t. He stands by a window. A flock of starlings settles among the tight black buds of a bare tree. Then, like black buds unfolding, they open their wings; they flutter and sing, stirring everything into motion, air, wings, black notes in music. He becomes aware that he is watching them with pleasure; that something almost extinct, some small gesture toward the future, is ready to welcome the spring; in some spare, desperate way, he is looking forward to Easter, the end of Lenten fasting, the end of penitence. There is a world beyond this black world. There is a world of the possible. A world where Anne can be queen is a world where Cromwell can be Cromwell. He sees it; then he doesn’t. The moment is fleeting. But insight cannot be taken back. You cannot return to the moment you were in before.
I read the passage partly just for its gentle beauty, but also because it resonated with me. Here, tenderly depicted, is one of those fleetingly powerful encounters with hope. One of those almost mystical experiences that I think we all know something about.
Hope is delicate – a bird’s wing, a quaver on a stave. But it is also strong. It touches something eternal. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. Death gives way to Easter. There is hope. And hope means we can go on.
The moment may be fleeting – but “you cannot return to the moment you were in before”.
May you know hope today, as a gift.