I love The Shawshank Redemption. It just might be my all-time favorite film. At the beginning of the story, Andy Dufresne is convicted of murdering his wife and her lover–a crime he didn’t commit–and is sent to Shawshank Prison in Maine to live out the rest of his days. I’m sure you’ve seen the movie so you know exactly who and what I’m talking about. (Side note: If you haven’t seen this masterpiece, shame on you! Do so immediately! Just keep your TV tuned to TNT. They show it at least once a week, it seems!) It is truly a story about hope when all hope seems completely lost.
Andy is the character that keeps hope alive throughout the story, and infuses the lives of his imprisoned friends with that same, contagious hope. After an initial battle with the understandable fear he has about entering that terrible prison in the first place and a truly horrifying start to his incarceration, Andy is able to find some friends among the inmates and even the guards. He figures out a way in which he can become useful. He creates for himself a possibility.
Hope seems to be easy to live into when you have something to hope for…or, is it something to hope in? Andy lives in the hope that justice will one day prevail, that the truth will one day come to light and it will be proved that he is, indeed, innocent. If he can just work hard, keep his head down and an ear up, he just might find himself in a position to once again bask in the freedom that he and all of his fellow inmates know is just beyond the walls– walls that seem to close in more and more as the years go by.
Sometimes I’ve wondered if the story could’ve played out the same way if Andy had actually been guilty. His innocence seems to be the linchpin. Everyone else is guilty. Their fates are sealed. They know they deserve the punishment they’ve gotten. They might get paroled at some point, but that isn’t very likely. Their hope has all but disappeared with their guilt. Andy, however, has something on which he can hang his hope–the justice that arrives on the back of truth.
But what is truth, really? These days, it seems as though one man’s truth is another man’s blasphemy. Some days it feels to me like something to hang my hope upon is nothing more than yesterday’s pipe dream. I used to be so sure, so certain of where my hope was hung. But, as I entered my thirties and felt my faith changing, I slowly began to realize that my trust in that which is greater than myself was shifting as a result of an extremely shaky and unfocused hope.
In my youth, my hope was firmly fixed upon a life after this one, and, not insignificantly, was tied to an “I’ve got it all worked out” theology. That made things quite easy…until the questions without any answers started popping up. The religion of my teenage upbringing seemed to have very little room for uncertainty. If you studied and prayed hard enough, you’d know what to do. All of the difficult questions had answers, except the ones that didn’t. In those cases, we were to “leave that up to God.”
Without answers, my hope began to fade. Without a feeling of certainty, I began to wander, lost in the desert of the unexplainable. Then I discovered what it is that lies just on the outskirts of unanswerable questions– Mystery. A place where my hope slowly started to flower.
For a brief moment in time, I thought about giving up on my faith. I thought I could, as some of my friends had done, leave God behind in favor of a Secular Humanist approach. (In a remarkable bit of irony, I’ve witnessed the lives of several friends actually transformed by God for miraculous purposes the moment they gave God up. Go figure.) As for me, I could never pull that off. There has always been something in the ceremony of my religious practice that has kept me intrigued and engaged in a pursuit of a relationship with the Sacred. And it was a refocusing on that pursuit that re-energized my hope and strengthened my faith. It was a reinvestment in a greater hope that enabled me to trust in mystery.
A few weeks ago, a dear friend of mine, Dr. Donald Brash, explained his thoughts on hope to me. A statement he made baffled me at first, but as I let it settle, the meaning became more clear. He said:
“Hope is greater than faith because it liberates faith to new possibilities.”
Possibilities. I like them. Without possibilities, we’re doomed to live forever behind the walls of our own personal prisons. The prisons we create for ourselves every time we’re confronted by our own faults and shortcomings.
Hope is real. Hope is powerful. Hope is, as Andy Dufresne says to Red, “a good thing, maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.”
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