“The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times” by Jane Goodall and Douglas Abrams. Celadon Books (New York, 2021). 272 pp., $28.
“I Am With You: Lessons of Hope and Courage in Times of Crisis” by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan. Loyola Press (Chicago, 2021). 112 pp., $12.99.
“Why Are You Afraid? Have You No Faith?” by Pope Francis. Our Sunday Visitor (Huntington, Indiana, 2021). 176 pp., $19.95.
At a moment when even the most optimistic among us grasps for hope at times during our current mental health pandemic comes three helpful survival guides, reminding us about where our hope in anchored.
The first of these is “The Book of Hope,” by Jane Goodall and Douglas Abrams. Abrams also co-authored “The Book of Joy” with the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and this book is a worthy successor to that one.
Together, Goodall and Abrams have some excellent conversations about hope, which she defines as “what enables us to keep going in the face of adversity. It is what we desire to happen, but we must be prepared to work hard to make it so.”
She said she is asked probably most often if there is still hope for our world and for the future of our children and grandchildren.
“And I am able to answer truthfully, yes. I believe we still have a window of time during which we can start healing the harm we have inflicted on this planet — but that window is closing. If we care about the future of our children and theirs, if we care about the health of the natural world, we must get together and take action. Now — before it is too late.”
Goodall then explores further her four reasons for hope: the amazing human intellect, the resilience of nature, the power of young people and the indomitable human spirit.
She thinks humans are more intellectual than intelligent at times — or we wouldn’t destroy our only home, which is what we have been doing for a very long time.
We humans and our intellects face four great challenges, she says: alleviating poverty; reducing the unsustainable lifestyles of the affluent; eliminating corruption; and facing up to the problems caused by growing populations of humans and their livestock.
While these are daunting challenges, she thinks that we’re beginning to make some progress on them, and that a key element is reestablishing our connection with the natural world.
When it comes to our connection with the natural world, she makes a telling observation: Most of our diseases come from interactions with animals, she says, and COVID-19 is one of them.
“They start when a pathogen, such as a bacteria or virus, spills over from an animal to a human and bonds with a cell in a human. …
“If only we had listened to the scientists studying zoonotic diseases who have long warned that such a pandemic was inevitable if we continued to disrespect nature and disrespect animals. But their warnings fell on deaf ears. We didn’t listen and now we are paying a terrible price.”
Despite this warning to all of us, this book gives us a strong sense of hope in the future through Goodall’s vision and especially her work with young people all over the globe.
Cardinal Dolan’s little book, “I Am With You,” is a collection of his sermons, clear and practical, from March through August 2020.
When he talks about the disciples being behind locked doors and Jesus showing up, he comments, “Neither fear, adversity, tragedy nor death can keep Jesus from being with us, his people. None of the powers on earth or under the earth can keep the Lord away from us, hard as they may try. And they sure have tried hard in COVID-19. Fear and death were all around us. Unfortunately, they still linger.”
He also observes, “Many of us are asking the ‘why’ of the coronavirus. … But one thing we believers learn is instead of asking why, which we really can’t answer, we ought to ask ‘who.’ Who can bring meaning during times of crisis? Who can bring resolution to our problems and fears? Who can give us purpose? And that, of course, is almighty God.”
These themes are even stronger in the third beautiful book, the first half of which takes us to the scene of the Holy Father’s dramatic prayer for the world in an empty St. Peter’s Square on March 27, 2020, the next best thing to being there ourselves that day.
With breathtaking photographs we recall the power of that moment when, after the Gospel about the disciples in the boat with Jesus in the dark, afraid, Pope Francis began:
“For weeks now it has been evening. Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void, that stops everything as it passes by; we feel it in the air, we notice it in people’s gestures, their glances give them away. We find ourselves afraid and lost.”
From there, he goes on to show us what a challenge to our faith the time of pandemic is. He observes, “Faith begins when we realize we are in need of salvation.”
The second half of the book is made up of texts of many talks he has given since that time, reminding us that, in addition to the public health experts, we need to listen to Pope Francis’ caring leadership at this time.
For example, “A small virus continues to cause deep wounds and to expose our physical, social and spiritual vulnerabilities. It has laid bare the great inequality that reigns in the world: inequality of opportunity, of goods, of access to health care, of technology, education: Millions of children cannot go to school, and so the list goes on.
“These injustices are neither natural nor inevitable. They are the work of man, they come from a model of growth detached from the deepest values. … And this has made many people lose hope and has increased uncertainty and anguish.
“This is why, to emerge from the pandemic, we must find the cure not only for the coronavirus — which is important! — but also for the great human and socioeconomic viruses.”
All three of these books give us tools for hope as we head into a future full of challenges.
Finley is the author of several books on practical spirituality, including “Holy Together: Reflections on Married Spirituality” and “Savoring God: Praying With All Our Senses.” She previously taught in the religious studies department at Gonzaga University.