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Tuesday, February 22 2005 19:00
A generation ago, a surprising number of college and university students felt the world to be such an evil place that they did want to bring  children into it. It was a time when many young Americans had lost confidence in the future and could not see themselves becoming parents.

I remember being inwardly appalled and saddened when I heard those students share those views with me. Like a good counselor, I tried not to be judgmental and did more listening than talking, but I certainly felt myself in serious disagreement.

Looking back on that time, I see those young people as lacking the spiritual virtue of hope. At least, their hope was insufficient, not strong enough to allow them to imagine a future that could be handed on to children.

Given all the turmoil of the current American and world scene, some young people of today may also face the future with diminished  expectations of themselves and others. And they may be joined in this feeling by people no longer young.

They may share the conviction that the future is bound to be worse than the past. They may well feel that a door has been closed, and that their generation will never be able to bring about radical change in society.

This attitude would mean that the work of building a life is not worth as much as it should be. The discipline involved in setting goals is not clearly justified. Making bread, building love relationships, a marriage, raising children surely count for what is humanly valuable but, in the face of terror, are they still viable?

Today’s situation, marked by the threat of terror, raises questions about the need to live tentatively, rather than to dig in. Can we be free enough to follow where our own truth leads even when that is outside familiar security?

Much of the beauty of religious traditions lies in their invitation to live in expectation of something better. In my own Christian practice, that is the meaning of Lent, the penitential season that is now upon us.

Lent points toward Easter; it gives us something important to look forward to. That future is worth sacrificing for. Certain practices long associated with the Lenten season may help to stir up hope in us.

Harvard University chaplain Rev. Peter Gomes suggests three such practices. The first is silence which he defines as “not simply the absence of sound but .  .  .  also the presence of that which sound ordinarily obscures.” He urges people who come to his church to try 15 minutes of silence at least one day a week.

Secondly, he proposes study, that is, reading the Bible or perhaps a book about prayer. Specifically, he suggests choosing passages from one of the four gospels or going through the Psalms. Again, only 15 minutes, one day a week, can make a difference, he believes.

Finally, this spiritual leader recommends 15 minutes of service, doing a work of kindness to benefit other people. Rev. Gomes admits  “Fifteen minutes may seem a devilishly small amount of time for good works, given the pressing needs of this world,” but he believes that it may establish a habit of doing good that may spread.

This modest program ─silence, study, service─has the virtue of being specific. It nicely answers the question of what I can do to develop spiritually. These three practices can also stir in human hearts the hope for a better future.

This hope can take root because silence, study, and service bring us into contact with another word beginning in S: Spirit. Finding silence within us; studying the word in holy scripture; serving neighbors in need: all these actions lead us to discover deeper realities than we are ordinarily aware of. Ultimately, they can bring us closer to a working partnership with God.

All sensitive people feel the temptation to give up striving for good. At least from time to time, we teeter on the edge of losing hope and we ask ourselves “What’s the use?” Discovering silence, learning from inspired words, and becoming habituated to serving others may not, at first sight, seem directed toward hope.

Putting them into practice, however, quite possibly will surprise us and leave us feeling better about ourselves and our world.

Richard Griffin