The winter solstice, now just days away, will plant us once again in the season’s deepest darkness. How best to navigate under these shadowed conditions? “Hope begins in the dark,” says Anne Lamott, and while I agree I also know that hope is stronger when it’s been fortified by the light in all its many vessels–the stars, the sun, the effervescence of the human spirit when it refuses to stay buried for long. Krista Tippett offers a primer on hope, a workout regimen of sorts emphasizing hope’s inherent muscularity and underscoring the need for consistent strengthening if it is to serve when we need it most.

I think about those who embody hope, maestros of hope who unhesitatingly share their supply with the beleaguered or bereft, be it a neighbor or a stranger. I’m appreciating now more than ever those who’ve promoted and practiced hope on a wider scale, whose very lives have been a lighthouse for a community or a nation. On this, the anniversary of his death, I think of Václav Havel:

The kind of hope I often think about (especially in situations that are particularly hopeless, such as prison) I understand above all as a state of mind, not a state of the world. Either we have hope within us or we don’t; it is a dimension of the soul: it’s not essentially dependent on some particular observation of the world or estimate of the situation. Hope is not prognostication. It is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons.  

Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but, rather, an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed. The more unpropitious the situation in which we demonstrate hope, the deeper that hope is. Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out. In short, I think that the deepest and most important form of hope, the only one that can keep us above water and urge us to good works, and the only true source of the breathtaking dimension of the human spirit and its efforts, is something we get, as it were, from “elsewhere.” It is also this hope, above all, which gives us the strength to live and continually to try new things, even in conditions that seem as hopeless as ours do, here and now.

While it’s true our world needs all the ambassadors of hope it can get, it’s as true that any one of us who can offer a dependable spot of light will help.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers-

That perches in the soul-

And sings the tune without the words-

And never stops – at all –

                                   ~ Emily Dickenson