Pain and Hope

Pain and Hope

Grace and peace to you and through you

A number of years ago I used to regularly participate in what we called: Pilgrimages of Pain and Hope. These pilgrimages included entering into different social spaces over a few consecutive days. For example we would meet with the homeless on the streets for conversation. We would visit the paediatrics ward in a public hospital and a Catholic-run home for people with severe physical and mental handicaps. We would spend time with Aids Hospice Volunteers and spend a weekend living in an informal settlement. Sometimes we would also include having a meal at a fancy restaurant – creating a sharp sense of social whip-lash. Our task was to feel – not to fix. With the ultimate aim of becoming a more compassionate people awake to the truth of our context of which we are often ignorant and numb.

The name was crucial. They were called Pilgrimages of Pain and Hope. To fulfill our feeling task we were invited to be attentive to both the pain and the hope. This was challenging. It was easier to focus on one or the other than to hold and honour both. Being in a diverse group helped. When some of us were drowning in despair others helped us to find hope and when we were tempted to get high on hope some others quickly sobered us up by conveying a splash of ice-cold pain. To focus only on the pain is pointless – leading to defeatism and despair with cynicism sprinkled on top. To focus only on the hope is truthless – leading to dangerous ignorance and naiveté soaked in apathy.

All followers of Jesus are by definition pilgrims of pain and hope. Pilgrims of the Cross and Resurrection is another way of saying it. To focus only on the Cross is to deny the power of Jesus. To focus only on the Resurrection is to deny the suffering of Jesus as well as to deny the need for resurrection in the first place – namely death.

With everything that is happening in the world and in our country at this time, we may be tempted to divorce pain from hope or hope from pain. I encourage you to hold them tightly together because the truth comes from their union.

I find the following words helpful in this endeavour: “Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.” (Václav Havel, in Disturbing the Peace).

Grace, Alan


“I remember Mr. Bartlett…

In biology class he discusses the transformation of caterpillar into butterfly.

‘What’s the process that goes on inside a cocoon?’ he asks. ‘Has anyone ever seen a picture of the insect at the halfway point between caterpillar and butterfly? Does anyone know what it looks like?’ No one has or does.

The next week, Mr. Bartlett finds a cocoon in the woods and brings it to the classroom. We crowd around as he takes a razor blade and neatly slices it in two. The cocoon looks empty.

‘There’s nothing in there,’ says one of the kids.

‘Oh, it’s in there,’ says Mr. Bartlett. ‘It just doesn’t have a shape right now. The living, organic material is spun right into the cocoon. Caterpillar is gone; butterfly is yet to come.’ We stare in wonder.

‘Real transformation,’ says Mr. Bartlett, ‘means giving up one form before you have another.

It requires the willingness to be nothing for a little while…”

~ From Too Much Is Not Enough, by Orson Bean, page 33


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