Hope occupies a place on the spectrum of confidence ranging from despair to radiant assurance. Despair implies that hope has vanished. Radiant assurance is beyond hope, which implies a degree of uncertainty.
This reflection on our attitudes toward the future begins with a look at our consciousness of the past. Edmund Husserl distinguished (1) explicit remembering from (2) retaining the past as a receding dimension of the present. Reading or hearing a sentence, we retain but do not consciously recall earlier words as we perceive later words. Thus explicit, active memory is distinguished from retention.

Husserl described a parallel distinction about our consciousness of the future: there is (1) a definite, conscious act of expecting or predicting a future event and (2) a tacit “protention,” a dimension of the present that does not explicitly predict or hope for anything. Reading or hearing the beginning of a sentence, we protend the completion of the sentence with a vague sense of its grammar and content. Or imagine a boy who goes out one day and meets an older boy, and they get along wonderfully well. Because of the protentions and hope launched by their day of friendship, when evening comes and the the younger one must return home, it would be a shock if the older boy said, “Good-bye. I won’t be seeing you anymore.”

Radiant assurance is a present experience: “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” The taste of divinely good Presence also includes protentions without any future boundary, since the experience of radiant assurance does not phenomenologically involve this body of flesh. It is conceivable that death could end a wonderful relationship with the spiritual Friend, but such an end would violate the momentum of friendship already begun. There are no quantitative limits on the dimensions of the present “moment,” the now.

Radiant experience can significantly modify our sense of past and future. A radiant experience of forgiveness refreshes the sense of self and modifies memories associated with shame and guilt. Remembering the radiant experience re-awakens the retention, as though the retention persists as an underground river, ready to surface at any time. The sense of self as restored nourishes faith and hope for our future.

Radiant assurance can encompass the future. Isaiah II seems to have known, in Babylon, that the Jews in captivity there would be released to return to Jerusalem. People report near-death-experiences and visions of the heavenly life to come. Experiences of radiant assurance regarding life after death or our planetary future erase all doubt about destiny. But most of us live with a measure of uncertainty and rely on hope to bolster courage.

On the spectrum of certainty, hope can lean either way. When hope is weak, fear and discouragement hamper constructive responses to uncertainty. When hope is nourished by radiant assurance, then the experience of uncertainty gets transformed: one way is to contemplate possible outcomes, prepare vigorously for each of them, and heartily to embrace the uncertainty. Another way is to channel the energy of radiant assurance into efforts to bring about the desired outcome.

Effort at the level of optimal performance has been described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi as “flow.” In the paradigm case, an athlete of high skill faces a high challenge, at the level that calls forth his best. “The main dimensions of flow—intense involvement, deep concentration, clarity of goals and feedback, loss of a sense of time, lack of self-consciousness and transcendence of a sense of self, leading to an autotelic, that is, intrinsically rewarding experience—are recognized in more or less the same form by people the world over.” A figure skater does not know whether some competitor will score higher; but her experience of flow brings its own radiant assurance along with it. Flow is neither an assurance of victory nor a guarantee against a fall. But optimal performance does not get distracted by worries about competitors, but enters into the flow of excellence cultivated by thousands of hours of training.
Confident of something good in our future, we can savor it in advance. In savoring, the uncertainty that calls for hope is increasingly supplemented by assurance.


[1] My publications on courageous willing, teleology, philosophies of history, and peace contribute to the mosaic of reflections on hope: https://sites.google.com/a/kent.edu/jwattles/home/publications.

[1] Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, “The Future of Flow,” 364-83 in Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Isabella Selega Csikszentmihalyi, eds. Optimal experience: Psychological studies of flow in consciousness (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1988), p. 365.