January 8, 2024


Hope is a very small word. Both a noun and a verb, it is a desire which may or may not be possible to fulfil or, as a verb, a word of action or being. Therein lies its crux. Will we just sit down and passively hope or will we get up to try to make hope happen? Is hope positive or is it just something we yearn for and which may leave us forever disappointed?

During Covid, I recorded a podcast with Bishop David of Basingstoke which talked about hope – I bounced out of the recording walking more lightly, looking further ahead and smiling and have never forgotten it. Hope matters.

Hope has been described as a rainbow which helps us live. Perhaps like art it gives us illusions or perhaps it has transfigurative powers to make this life better or, if you believe in the next life, hope will carry you there.

Geordie and I however cannot live at Highclere and just hope. We need to plan, to create strategy, to enact, to take stock, to adapt and to seize the day – carpe diem. We can be more hopeful if we have done what we can to look ahead and predict using all the data we can gather.

Too many years ago now I went to St Andrews university in Scotland. The motto of the town named for the Saint is “dum spiro spero” – “while I breathe, I hope” whilst that of the university is “Ever to Excel”, which is taken from a speech in Homer’s Iliad where Glaucus responds to Diomedes just before a battle promising to do his best. To excel requires planning, structure determination and courage – you may not necessarily be the best but you are the best at trying. As Winston Churchill said “Never give up, Never give up, Never give up” and Churchill was undoubtedly not the best at school – his school reports give most of us hope.

As the Christian story unfolds into the New Year, it is about showing and telling and thus giving hope. One of the best known phrases in the Bible is in St Paul’s Letters to the Corinthians “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” Hope and trust underpin morality and hope has an object, you need to be courageous to enact what you hope for: it is not just shallow optimism.

I prefer to live life with a glass half full, with a desire to enjoy fairy tales which have happy endings and may be slightly out of this world. I prefer to hope for something better yet, along with Geordie, know that it is also about putting one foot in front of another. It often seems to me to be rather like climbing Beacon Hill at the top of which the 5th Earl is buried. Everyone starts with enthusiasm but it is quite steep. Then it opens out and you keep hoping you are nearly there but you are not. It offers false hope that you are near the summit and you feel a bit disappointed not to mention out of breath but you have to keep on going and then you do make it to the top.

The 5th Earl of Carnarvon worked in hope – he looked for the tomb of Tutankhamun for years – but he planned to succeed, looking where no one else had looked and being methodical. His hopes were crowned with success yet at that moment of triumph he met disaster and died, caught between an ancient culture which tried to create eternity and a more modern Christianity which revered it. Either and both promise hope.