“Hope” is the thing with feathers

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

I remember reading that famous poetic line in seventh grade English class, and I was very confused. Emily and her rich metaphor were not something my junior high brain readily understood.

That said, deep metaphor is something that my adult, fully-formed-frontal-cortex brain barely understands either. Just ask my husband. He proposed using extended metaphor: as we stood on the water stage in downtown Myriad Gardens, he quoted Shakespeare—”All the world’s a stage and men and women merely players”—and asked me if I would walk onto this stage with him. I adroitly commented, “Brent, we are already on the stage.” Metaphor, for me at least, is tricky.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –

Even as poor a metaphorian as I am, the power of metaphor—or really any form of analogy—can easily floor me.

Analogousblog case in point, in my current workout video obsession (note the subtext: I workout. Be impressed), there is a moment of particular awful gruelingness where my man Shaun T looks right into the camera and attempts to motivate: “The fight is all about the end—how much do you have left in your tank when you are out there and you are bobbing and weaving and somebody is trying to attack you—what if life is trying to attack you? You need to push! You need to go!”

The first time he said this to me, I fell to the ground weeping. Life was getting to me, and the physical reality of anguish at doing one rep (how do you expect me to do a minute’s worth?!) touched my emotional, ethereal hurt that I honestly hadn’t realized that I was struggling with until that very moment.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –

So, where am I going with this? Metaphor and analogy have a unique strength in that, when done well, can connect something internal and/or emotional to something physical and tangible. And I need that. If ignoring my emotions was a spiritual gift, I would have it! I need this beautiful art (and other forms of art too) in order to jumpstart my heart sometimes.

I believe God knows this about me—and you too—because his word is full of rich metaphor, simile, and other types of analogy. Christ as my husband. The church as a corporeal body. Faith as a mustard seed.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And that is why we can hope. I don’t know about you, but, as someone who struggles to understand analogies and metaphors, as someone who prefers the tangible vs. the intangible, hoping in a promise—which is something we as Christians are called to do—is hard. I panic. What if it is all a lie? What if I believe just to make myself feel better? I cannot touch it. I cannot feel it. I cannot prove it.

But, hope is something intangibly tangible through analogy. It is not a thing with feathers; it is the thing with feathers. It is the story of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is what gets me through every single one of those reps (I can now do 2, take that world). It is sometimes the only thing keeping my marriage alive. It is the thing I shape my life around as I believe in these stories and this believable and beautiful narrative of redemption. And it is something that Emily Dickinson tried to tell me in seventh grade.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

 Citation: Dickinson, Emily. “Hope is the thing with feathers.The Poems of Emily Dickinson. Editor R. W. Franklin. Harvard University Press, 1999.

B. A. Purkaple

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