Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. Dean Snyder, Senior Minister

 

 

 

Hope…Even for the Past

“Hope and Trust”

Sunday, May 6, 2007

 

 

Romans 8: 31-39

 

Rev. Dean Snyder

 

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8: 38-39)

 

A half a century ago Erik Erickson introduced his eight stages of the life cycle. I learned them in college and again in seminary and, like many of you who learned them, some of you now in high school, they are a part of the way I think.

 

Each of the eight stages has a developmental crisis. At every stage we have to decide within ourselves between two alternative postures toward life.

 

The first stage takes place between the time of birth and 18 months old. The decision we make during these first 18 months of our lives is to choose between an attitude of “basic trust” versus an attitude of “basic distrust.”[i]

 

Within the first 18 months of our lives we decide whether the universe, other people, and our own selves are basically trustworthy or basically untrustworthy.

 

If we come through this stage of our development too trusting, Erickson suggests that we might be tempted by a belief that we can gamble and always win, we might become almost suicidally careless, trusting that everything will come out fine even if we are irresponsible.[ii]

 

If we come through this stage too untrusting, Erickson says, we will tend to withdraw within ourselves and be at odds with ourselves and others.[iii]

 

A therapist reviewing Erickson’s book Identity and the Life Cycle says that during the first two years of our lives we become either “polyannas” or paranoids or some combination of both.[iv]

 

But, of course, we don’t just decide for trust versus distrust once and be done. Think of it this way – no matter how old we are, no matter how educated or accomplished we may be, inside each one of us there is a year-old baby deciding again and again whether the world is basically a trustworthy place, whether other people are basically trustworthy, whether our own impulses and feelings are trustworthy.

 

Here are the two important things I want to emphasize about this: Erickson’s theory of life’s developmental stages says that for each decision that has to be made at each stage of life there is a virtue at stake. In this first stage of life, the one the baby inside each of us is making all the time, trust versus distrust, the virtue at stake, Erickson says, is hope.[v]

 

Hope is the result of a year-old infant inside of us making a primal decision that the universe, other people, and our own selves are basically trustworthy. Without an attitude of basic trust, it is very difficult to be hopeful.

 

If I read him correctly, while Erickson did not believe that only religious people choose an attitude of basic trust, he did believe that to trust or not to trust is a religious decision.[vi]

 

One of the questions religion helps us address is whether we choose to believe that the universe, other people and our own selves are basically trustworthy or not. And one of the results of choosing a basic attitude of trust is that it makes us hopeful.

 

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8: 38-39)

 

So, it is an interesting question, isn’t it? Just how much am I willing to trust the universe?  Do I believe the source of the universe is basically benevolent and caring or is it cold and indifferent?

 

How much am I willing to trust other people? Are people basically good and decent or are they selfish and brutish?

 

How much am I willing to trust myself? Am I basically capable, reasonable and humane with good impulses or am I selfish, greedy and mean with sinful impulses?

 

It is possible to answer these questions in a “Pollyanna” way. We can choose to be naďve and innocent – as though we did not live in a world of tornados and disasters, violence, disease, and war. We can be overly trusting of others and make ourselves victims. We can be overly trusting of our own selves and lose our capacity for self-examination and self-criticism and self-regulation.

 

But the much greater danger is that we can allow the crosses of the world to cause us to be basically distrusting of life and other people and our own selves. We can become hopeless.

 

And, if Erickson is right, the decision is being made not so much by our mature intelligent selves, but by the one-year old inside us.

 

This is why I am coming to believe that the non-verbal pre-intelligent part of our lives is much more important than many of us realize. Very primal parts of life are essential for our hopefulness.

 

Tasting our food, holding hands and being hugged by people who love us, playing, listening to music without worrying about the words – all those kinds of things that happen at a one-year old level are very important foundations for hope, no matter how old or accomplished or busy we become.

 

The same thing applies in our religious lives, I think. Being tenderly washed, bread and wine, music, simple repetitive prayers, playing. Sometimes the question isn’t what we believe in our minds, but what we believe in the one-year-old self within us.

 

Someone said to me not long ago that one of the things he missed about no longer being Catholic was the basins of water at the door and touching the water onto his forehead every time he came into church. I wish we Protestants were better at this kind of basic reminder of the presence of a trustworthy God.

 

Bill Coffin used to say, “Faith is not believing without proof, it is trusting without reservation.”[vii] Although it can be influenced by the intellect, trusting happens at a deeper level than the intellectual; which is perhaps why Jesus said it is necessary to become like children to enter the Kingdom of God. (Mark 10: 15)

 

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8: 38-39)

 

This conviction that the universe, and other people and our own selves are basically trustworthy – that God is for us and not against us – happens deep within our inner child. It is the source of our hope.

 

Erik Erickson said that there is a linguistic connection between the words “hope” and “hop.” Hope, he said, allows us to take leaps. Hope, he says, is the source of imagination and initiative.[viii] When we are in danger of losing hope, he said, we must be restored by “competent consolation.”

 

I can’t remember who I heard say it, but I remember hearing someone comparing us in church to a child in the park with a parent, a mother perhaps. The child starts out playing near the mother and then wanders a little bit away, until he realizes he has gone perhaps too far and runs back to make sure his mother is still there. Then he begins to play again, and maybe this time he falls, and he runs back to his mother, who brushes his off and tells him he is okay, and after some cuddling and reassurance he begins to play again and wanders of again.

 

This is what our spiritual life is like. We take hops and leaps into the world, but come back again and again to be reminded that the universe is trustworthy, despite the bruises and wounds.  

 

So we gather again this morning to taste bread and wine. To remember that the universe is basically trustworthy, others are basically trustworthy, we ourselves are basically trustworthy. We remember this no so much with our intellect as with the child within. We choose trust so that we might have hope.

 

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8: 38-39)

 

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[i] Erik H. Erickson, Identity and the Life Cycle (W.W. Norton & Company), 57-67.

[ii] Erickson, Identity and the Life Cycle,” 64.

[iii] Erickson, Identity and the Life Cycle,” 58.

[iv] http://www.amazon.com/Identity-Life-Cycle-Erik-Erikson/dp/0393311325

[v] Erik H. Erickson, The Life Cycle Completed (W.W. Norton & Company), 55-61.

[vi] Erickson, Identity and the Life Cycle,” 66-67.

[vii] William Sloane Coffin, Credo (Westminster John Knox Press), 8.

[viii] Erickson, The Life Cycle Completed, 60.