One year after hurricane Katrina ripped through New Orleans, signs of hope are posted everywhere. "We're Back and Rebuilding Stronger," "God Bless New Orleans," and my favorite, "Katrina was Big, But God is Bigger."
Yet one sign, which hangs from the roof of the Louisiana Superdome, high above the rest, has recently been inspiring a great deal of hope in a city still grappling with fears, insecurities, and multiple levels of loss. It reads: "Reopening 9-25-2006. Go Saints."
With gaping holes in its roof and no plumbing or electricity, the Dome, home of the Saints football team, became an infamous symbol of human strife after the storm. It served as a shelter of last resort for more than 30,000 of the city's least fortunate, who were trapped there for days with few provisions.
While it may appear trivial, for Gulf Coast residents like myself, the return of our beloved pro- football team and the reconstruction of the Dome is a sign of hope that announces to the world that New Orleans is being renewed.
But beyond the Xs and Os of football, spiritually rooted hope is more than simply settling for the notion that things may get better.
For me, hope has always meant turning to God. This hope can touch us with such power that we can actually feel the goodness of God's embrace. It slices through cynicism, paving the way for people to receive God's great bounty of blessings. Most important, however, hope can bring about a quiet sense of tranquility during anxious times.
Mary Baker Eddy, founder of the Church of Christ, Scientist, understood the power of hopefulness. Consider her poem, titled "Hope":
'Tis borne on the zephyr at eventide's hour;
It falls on the heart like the dew on a flower, –
An infinite essence from tropic to pole,
The promise, the home, and the heaven of Soul.
Hope happifies life, at the altar or bower,
And loosens the fetters of pride and of power;
It comes through our tears, as the soft summer rain,
To beautify, bless, and make joyful again.
The harp of the minstrel, the treasure of time;
A rainbow of rapture, o'erarching, divine;
The God-given mandate that speaks from above,
No place for earth's idols, but hope thou, and love.
("Poems," p. 45)
I appreciate this message because it connects hope's power to God. It explains how hope is purifying like rain, encompassing everyone, and leading to joy – even after tears.
I wasn't so hopeful during my first visit back to New Orleans one month after Katrina. As I drove my pickup truck into the city, my hands trembled as I clutched the steering wheel. I could not believe my eyes. Entire neighborhoods ruined. Mounds of trash everywhere. Oceangoing ships in the middle of roads. But it was the smell of rot that loitered in the air that I found most disturbing. I truly felt New Orleans was finished.
Soon after that, I learned that my church had been destroyed, but that another local church was holding Christian Science Sunday meetings in their undamaged Sunday School. I was not in a spiritual state of mind, but I decided to attend.
My heart was heavy upon entering the service. I felt grief for the city and was gravely discouraged. I recall praying to God to give me strength to hold myself together during the service. I prayed not to be cynical. I prayed for hope.
The time came for the congregation to pray aloud the Lord's Prayer. I did not speak. I simply listened. And what I heard was beautiful. I knew this prayer by heart, but it was as though I was hearing it for the first time. It was so relevant. I felt God's comfort. At that moment my grief melted, replaced with hope.