When I was a very young man, maybe a very old boy, during my freshman year at Creighton Prep, I was assigned a very young Jesuit, Tom Shanahan, as my homeroom teacher. He engaged me unlike any teacher before, and over the next few years, we became friends, a friendship I still hold in high regard. Tom, now a professor of theology at Creighton University these many years, came into my consciousness this morning and I was reminded of an observation he shared with me about our kinsmen several decades ago: We Irish , Tom said, have a lot of faith, and we have enough charity, I suspect, but we don’t live with much hope. Having immersed myself in Irish history over the intervening years, I have some sense of the why of that insight. And, of late, I have been meditating on hope.

On my journey, an interior one like yours, I have been at a place Juan de la Cruz, the misfit mystic of medieval Spain, called, luminous darkness. It is a still place, spacious, anticipating some ineffable movement, devoid of embellishment and singular, solitary, alone. It is a good and intuitively right place for me to be, though not without its particular challenges.

It is also appropriate for this Advent season, since a boy, my most looked-forward-to time, moreso than Christmas, or summertime, or even the brief eclipse that is a birthday. One of the graced ironies is that Advent is if anything only a season of hope. Of some spectacular or more probably undetectable thing happening, something desired and somehow understood, but only in the recesses of the soul, not available to the over-processing intellect. That it is a time of darkness is essential, midnight blue its evocative color, and the night sky its only source of light, the constellations in all of their hauntingly beautiful and undecipherable array. Luminous darkness. In the northern hemisphere, we find it cold, this year very cold, a bleak mid-winter, which somehow adds to the mystery or obscuration our hearts contemplate.

Only a season of hope. Well maybe other elements are present, too. Surrender. Trust. Even dread, (but the holy not the abject kind…so don’t stop reading).

Teresa of Avila, Juan’s very close friend and confidant, says: You find God in yourself and yourself in God. I think that’s where the dread comes in.

I am terrified by the encounter with what Jung calls the Self, what mystics, Christian and otherwise, call by many evocative names, most precisely, the One, or, as the Galilean wanderer most intimately called Love. Why dread, and why during this season of hope? Because the closer we come to its realization, the sharper its contour, the more demanding its energy, the more enthralling its draw, a gravity of insuperable completion. Its scares the BeJesus out of us. Our egos run amok, sentimental drivel takes hold, we get caught in what Owen Barlow calls the desert of non-participation, mechanically going through motions that deaden, rather than vivify our hearts and lives, and those grace places in our path.

My friend Grace Myerjack, a contemplative nun in upstate New York , who, like Tom’s, presence is in this room as I type, writes in her Christmas letter this year about all the places in our lives we have this encounter. Grace says we bump into this Presence even as we flee and seek to survive on our own. Survive on our own. Hmmm.

I am flee-er. Grace has my number. But I am working to sit and be still and wait. And, contrary to my heritage as a son of Eire, I am hoping.

Signs of hope are actually everywhere. I just forget to look sometimes.

For instance:

The Hubble continues to send to us beyond-beautiful images of universes untold, suggesting the vast magnificence and unknowable depths of the universe and of its Originator, inviting us to contemplate from a posture of humility and surrender and, yes, hope. While ultimate meaning may elude us, with our prehensile brains, other internal organs, the heart and the seat of intuition, soar. Hope.

In our cities, on this cold day, human beings are caring for human beings in every imaginable way: people who might otherwise be out in the freeze are being invited inside, being fed, clothed, gifted, educated, nurtured, restored to health or expiring with dignity and ease, recognized as human, perhaps even seen. Not just in our cities. Hope.

Each day, countless billions of humans are treating each other with dignity and respect, and delight. Friends everywhere are reaching out to friends, and making new ones, and learning how to listen a bit better, be a bit more honest and a bit more present. Parents are sacrificing for their children, and their children are amazing their parents with previously unimagined delights. That goes for aunts and uncles of all stripes with their nieces and nephews, too! Strangers are aiding strangers, and even some enemies are doing the most impossible of tasks, forgiving and repairing and healing the wounds that are evident everywhere, too. Music is being made, some of it soul stirring, and art is being created as if the world depended on it. Hope.

I received a letter yesterday from my friend William, a lifer recently transferred to a prison far away from the accessible San Quentin for the mass overcrowding there. He is a bodhisattva –in-training, though he may not know those terms. He had no rancor for being sent far from his loved ones in the East Bay, only hope that his reconstructed, reformed, grace-infused life would continue to flourish in an alien space. For me, hope.

In every country on the globe, a totally unreported cable news story, I might add, humans are caring for humans, and caring for animals, our dear close companions in this life, and caring for plants, and caring for the very life of the planet, caring for its survival, creating organizations to more efficiently care, so great is the caring, so disciplined are we desirous of becoming so our caring might be maxed, so that this great human adventure, this raising of consciousness, will not end in the collective ego’s great collapse, and along with it life on earth, but rather one enormous connected effort to learn again to reverence this one absolute gift we have been given, this majestic planet and our very lives. Hope.

We celebrated my father-in-law’s eighty fourth birthday last Sunday at a simple family lunch, prepared lovingly by Scott’s mother, Mary. Dick is a man of large humor and capacious intellect. He loves the earth and cares for it, as farmers do, with focused attention. He is a peerless citizen and a family man replete when his family is near, though with great friendships and associations in the world beyond his home. And he has taught me much about how to be a citizen, moreover, about how to be a human being, and, oddly perhaps, mostover, how to be a son. For me, hope

World leaders are meeting in Copenhagen as I write and as you read to address the aforementioned crisis being created by fossil fuel use. The Times said today that actual progress might be made. Hope.

Our president will soon join them. We have in Mr. Obama a national leader, commandingly elected by an electorate bereft of hope, who faces the insurmountable tasks we laid at his feet on 20 January of this year with grace, vast intelligence, patience, a collaborative, consultative style, a compelling joie de vivre, and a remarkable absence of rancor. For me, hope.

We have current moving images that inscribe humanity onto the soul: Gabby Sidibe as Precious, Morgan Freeman as Mandela and Matt Damon as his co-conspirator supplying hope in Invictus, Colin Firth, close to despair and yet, in A Single Man. Hope.

The green-banded young and not-so-young citizens of Iran continue to twitter and email and Iam each other and march together in their stunning effort to overthrow their own flawed national election and remedy the gaping wounds their culture has suffered for a generation. Inspiring and courageous. Hope.

Stories abound this time of year of a baby born to a with-child-in-the-eighth-month teen-ager (see Precious above) without benefit of acknowledged patrimony but an intuitive but nonetheless cockamamie story about a superior sense of an impending pregnancy trolling through the high desert countryside to fulfill some iron-fisted colonists’ demand that a census-for-tax-purposes occur (and right now!) with her perhaps shamed companion, a dreamer of a man a bit older but undoubtedly baffled by the incongruities of his girlfriend’s story, bizarre and sympathetic at once, and their not finding a place to shelter themselves in the freeze, and a barn, and big wide bovines nearly cramping them, and sheep herders (the smell is apparent, no!?) and some extraterrestrials (angels, in the vernacular, but really) and monarchs (perhaps minor dukes) from eastern kingdoms (see Iran , nee Persia above) with gold (currently the commodity of choice) and incense (masking the shepherds odor, hopefully) and myrrh (no allusions immediately available but it sounds generally taboo). We don’t really know from swaddling, we like the word Magi, for some reason, and this impossible story is the narrative upon which one can somehow build a life.

It contains every necessary element: a journey, vulnerability, intuition, humility, suffering, yet trusting, surrender, attention, unexpected gifts from improbable sources, the willing exchange of the material for a generous enough dose of the improbably spiritual, the life giving and love bearing presence of nature. Of course we know its outcome because we have read ahead. But the outcome is necessary, no?

No dogmatic articulations necessary. No atonement, nor soteriology, no human sacrifice to a venging deity. Those accretions obscure the life-vivifying truth of the story.

We are invited to live a human life. Every day.

Getting up after yesterday’s failures and omissions, surrendering ourselves and giving it all away today. Rising each morning with the knowledge that perfection is an illusion and a dangerous one at that. Each day opening our eyes to the reality that the enemy I can’t forgive lives mostly within. And that the One whose love I yearn for, whose presence I intuit and in some mysterious unknowing know, resides therein, as well. They must be reconciled, they must be joined, they are ultimately one. Luminous darkness. Advent. A baby swaddled. A girl unashamed. A cow lowing. Stars beckoning. True gifts shared. Awe abundant. Love delivered. Just in time.Hope.