We Move Forward, We Spiral Back

Be sure and check out this week’s readings and guided thoughts.

I did a presentation in my last class over Elizabeth Tisdell, an educator who writes a lot about spirituality. She defines the spiritual life with the title of this post – it is moving forward and spiraling back.

Here is a rough sketch of what that means: All we have to work with is the present moment. But the present moment is only possible because of the past that got us there. And the next moment is determined by the future we are heading towards. So the present, the future and the past are all deeply connected.

The present is the only chance we have to move toward a hopeful future. But we often have these moments in the present where we “spiral back” and better understand our past. We are given new insights into the meaning of old experiences and those insights help us create a more hopeful future.

If your head feels like it is spiraling, let me help illustrate this, specifically in regards to hope.

28_advent_hope_fullThis week we are focusing on hope. Hope has an end goal. Hope is going somewhere. When we are starkly reminded that the world is not as it should be, hope is the gentle voice reminding us it won’t always be this way. Hope says there is a better future ahead. And that future is what we are moving toward.

But hope is not just in the future. Hope shapes what we do in the present. And hope helps us understand our past.

“We move forward. We spiral back.”

I think of the rough spot our family was in last year, and how we could see no light at the end of the tunnel. Yet those stresses and anxieties have melted away into a distant memory. There was hope, we just couldn’t see it.

I think of my friend who as we speak holds the baby she did not know if she was able to have at this time last year. There was hope. And she holds that hope now.

I think of my friend who was struggling with his health and had no diagnoses. And while he still fights the battle every day, he knows what he is dealing with and is able to move forward. Even small hope creates new ways forward.

Advent is the time when we re-visit hope. When I think about hope now, it helps me remember the places where hope was right there and I didn’t see it. It helps me see how I moved towards hope. It helps me remember the conversations I had with people who were speaking hope into my life. Hope moves me forward, even when I am unaware.

While I may not have seen hope in those moments, I can make sense of them now as I spiral back and reflect on hope. Hope helps me put things into perspective. This helps me better understand and deal with the despairing moments in the future. Spiraling back to see hope at work in the past helps me move forward in hope now.

“We move forward. We spiral back.”

We spiral back because there are still times when hope is hard to see, and we don’t know if we can move forward.

I think of my friend who is helping his 5-year-old deal with her mother’s suicide.

I think of my friend whose relationships are strained to a breaking point.

I think of my friend who doesn’t know how he feels about God.

I think of my friends who are dealing with the same struggles we were last year.

What does hope have to say to them?

There is a fine line between hope and despair. Hope promises a future, but it is a future we can never fully grasp. If we are to continue to hope, we need glimpses of hope in action. And we need them now.

Sometimes I cannot see hope on my own. I need other people to be hope in action.

This is the beautiful thing about Christian hope. It is not just a “not yet.” It is a “now/not yet.” Hope is a call to action. It is something we can do in the present to move us forward to a better future.

As Christians we believe the world is headed somewhere. We believe the world is not as a should be, but God began the process of putting it back together 2000 ago when a scared teenager was told she was going to have God’s baby.

This is the story we proclaim at Advent.

It is the story we spiral back to which gives new meaning and purpose to our lives. It is the story that moves us forward.

“We move forward. We spiral back.”

If we believe the world is headed somewhere, we have a mission to help inaugurate that future. We live out the hope we hold on to. We tell the story of hope with our lives. Otherwise it is just meaningless talk.

So when we see those who have no hope, our job is to be hope for them.

And when the world seems dark and hopeless, we are reminded that our hope is not in our own effort or goodness.

Our hope is in a God who loved us enough to be one of us.

Our hope is in the God who moves us forward as the Liturgical year spirals back over the Story.

Our hope is in the God who is with us even in what seems hopeless.


The God of Advent.

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