Hope Beyond Optimism (Series on “Minding the Web”)

In the essay “Minding the Gaps, or, Theologians Writing Memoirs,” Stanley Hauerwas examines the similarities and divergences between the British theologian A.E. Harvey’s memoir and his own, Hannah’s Child.  In addition to belonging to the subset of “memoirs written by theologians,” both works also reflect upon a shared reality of life with a spouse suffering from mental illness.  Here is an illuminating quote from near the end of the essay:

“What primarily interests me about the difference between Harvey’s memoir and Hannah’s Child is how the latter narrative remains a narrative of hope. That a story could be told is an act of hope. Yet hope can be misguided. A number of years ago a friend’s son was diagnosed as a schizophrenic. His father and mother did everything to help him regain his sanity. I told them, however, that their first line of defense was to give up hope, that is, the hope that he would get better. Such hope is a form of optimism that you cannot help but feel during those periods when the one that is ill seems to be “better.” But an optimistic hope will finally not sustain you from one episode to the next.

Yet it is also the case that you cannot survive without hope, though a hope that is grounded in a very different reality than optimism. The kind of hope that sustains you is a hope that makes endurance an ongoing way of life without the refusal to give up destroying you. Such a hope takes the form of prayer, in which God is made present in the lives of those suffering from a debilitating illness, as well as those that care for them. In short, hope is the virtue that sustains us with the conviction that no life is without meaning.”1

This is the twelfth in a series of posts highlighting captivating, provocative, or simply entertaining quotes from the forthcoming book Minding the Web: Making Theological Connections by Stanley Hauerwas edited by Robert J. Dean (Cascade).

  1. Stanley Hauerwas, “Minding the Gaps, or, Theologians Writing Memoirs,” in Minding the Web: Making Theological Connections, edited by Robert J. Dean (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2018), 139-140.

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