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I am not very adept at Hope. It has always been ephemeral in my repertoire of spiritual practices, and has seemed to lead to disappointment, were it to be too firmly attached to a particular outcome. So for a long time I gave up Hope as an active spiritual practice in favor of wishing and/or being realistic. Yet in this year of all years I need Hope. An Advent is a season of Hope…Hope that there are no final defeats, Hope that all will be well and all manner of things will be well, Hope that Christ has come and will come again.

However, the elusive nature of Hope still lurks, and I am thrown back to the Psalms where we are advised not to put our trust in human beings and outcomes, but in the Presence of the Holy One. So in this season of Advent I am looking for concrete images that remind  me to Hope. Today it is the rose. Living in Southern California, which has been without rain for many months, we have as a community been replacing most of our greenery with drought resistant plants. Yet I have kept my several roses, a cherished gift to me from a contemplative sister, for all these years, and even though I am not an adept gardener, and leave the care and feeding of the rose to others, I am continually delighted when I see to my surprise– “Lo, how a rose ere blooming…” as it did this week. It’s the end of November, the temperature fluctuates between the 60s and 80s, and suddenly there is a rose in bloom. And it makes me glad, makes me hopeful, that in what seems like unlikely circumstances, beauty and life can blossom forth.

In the Advent season poets and songwriters have used the Rose as a symbol of Hope. From Hebrew Scripture there is the image of the Rose of Sharon. Eleanor Farjeon sings that “Love the Rose is on its way.” Old Friend Ken Medema invites us to “Bring me a rose in the wintertime when its hard to find…”  It is possible to see an icon of hope even in the bleak midwinter of our own discontent, fragility, frustration and temptation to despair, and the rose in my garden reminds me of that. Despite the drought, despite the bleakness, despite the anxiety, a Rose blooms, and will bloom again. In our living room, a sacred space, we have placed this week three rosebuds opening, bringing beauty, perfume, peace to our gatherings and conversations. When the course of the narratives become dismal and hopeless, I look at the Rose, longer lasting than the course of human events, more beautiful than any scenarios being sketched by pundits, evocative of the One who has come and will come again. I am reminded to Hope!

And I will be continue to be reminded if I pay attention to the garden  where the roses grow. Mary Oliver writes, Attention is the beginning of devotion. (Upstream, p. 8)  This season I want to devotedly rejoice in Hope!