Prof John Brewer has recently argued that ‘We are at our lowest ebb in the peace process.’
Writing about the way political leaders are using and abusing ‘the past’, Brewer claims:
“This shift in the moral landscape is very worrying. We are at our lowest ebb in the peace process. It seems to be bouncing along at the bottom; recrimination triumphs over reconciliation. Politicians are unable or unwilling to make the moral case for peace.”
Similarly, the Haass Talks could be interpreted as a sign that our politicians have given up hope of resolving difficult issues themselves … Although on the other hand, the willingness to ask for help could be read as a sign of hope.
So, is there any room for hope?
In a recent discussion organised by the Clonard Monastery-Fitzroy Presbyterian Fellowship, Declan Kearney of Sinn Fein and John Kyle of the Progressive Unionist Party spoke about the importance of hope. In describing how he felt after a similar meeting with people from Clonard-Fitzroy back in May, Kearney said that after the event:
“There was a vibe of hope in the room. I didn’t detect any dismay or despondency. … I observed we could be into a very challenging summer and so it has proved to be. … For every big challenge that emerges, for every difficult that materializes on the streets, for any kind of political curve ball …. There are as many indications of hope and maybe more.”
Kearney added that hope can be quiet and unassuming – difficult to notice or to grasp – but he is certain it is there:
“Hope doesn’t always manifest itself in the same way that the difficulty does. The difficulty is much more tangible, visible, more stark. … The hope maybe doesn’t have the same immediate physical impact but it’s there nevertheless. … You know if you keep doing and saying the right things there’s a big weight of silent hope behind you.”
In everyday use, the word ‘hope’ sometimes carries the connotations of wishful thinking. But I don’t think that this is what is meant when we read about ‘hope’ in the Bible. Hebrews 11:1, in the King James translation, reads:
‘Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.’ (emphasis mine)
Strong words such as ‘substance’ and ‘evidence’ put some weight behind the idea of hope, encouraging us that if we persevere in ‘doing and saying the right things,’ we can look forward to a better future.
It’s significant that the ‘Hope and History’ campaign, launched at the start of the Haass Talks by a group of clergy, emphasises the importance of hope.
More than 1500 ‘ordinary’ people of Northern Ireland have endorsed the group’s online statement.
If that indicates a quiet confidence, and a commitment, to working for a better future, that can only strengthen that quiet, collective hope.