One of the saddest expressions and experiences is that of disappointed hope. In the story of the road to Emmaus the two disciples are explaining why they seem so dejected.. they say ‘But we had hoped that he was the one’ (Luke 24, v. 21). Hope can be crushed so easily and then it can lead to cynicism and despair.
We had hoped that the world might become a better place. We had hoped that people would stop killing one another. We had hoped that as a society we might take better care of the vulnerable and the defeated. We had hoped that multinationals and especially oil and fossil fuel companies might realise that the environment is more important. We had hoped that money and power was not seen as everything…and so the list of dashed hopes goes on and on and this has been the case throughout history.
It can be the same in terms of personal history – I had hoped that life might have turned out differently, I had hoped that I could be a better person, I had hoped that I might do this or that or the other. I had hoped I might have been … and so that list goes on too. Somehow it is about how to establish some sort of right relationship between what has happened and what might happen in the future. Only in this way can the present become bearable. Ultimately both psychotherapy and spiritual practices demand some sort of acceptance of disappointments and unrealistic illusions. Through both comes the realization that the ego is not master in his or her house. Through both comes the awareness of an authenticity that involves the light and the dark and not some spurious optimism that everything will work out all right.
Thomas Merton wrote about the false hope of technology and secular progress and wrote : ‘Perfect hope is achieved on the brink of despair, when, instead of falling over the edge, we find ourselves walking on air’. it involves entering into the darkness of the human condition and discovering life and meaning where from the outside the observer only sees death and absurdity.
It’s worth reading to the end of Luke’s gospel account of that seven mile walk to Emmaus… through the darkness of the crucifixion and the destruction of the earthly hopes for redemption came something so extraordinary and mysterious that the world is still struggling to believe and hope in it.