And I will give her her vineyards from thence, and the valley of Achor for a door of hope.
As soon as we have spoken the words ‘Limitless Love’, or rather as soon as we have given a place in our hearts to this supreme reality, we have opened a door. It is the door that leads into the kingdom of liberty and light.
What is the meaning of this ‘door of hope’ of which the prophet Hosea speaks? The beginning of the book of Hosea is a strange but profound and moving parable. The Lord tells the prophet to take a prostitute to wife. Hosea does so. The woman abandons herself to a multitude of lovers. She does not find peace or happiness with them. God takes everything away from her, reducing her to a state of nakedness and dryness: ‘I will lay waste her vines and her fig trees.’ Then the woman says, ‘I shall go and return to my first husband.’ God sees her change of heart. He pardons her: ‘Behold, I will allure her... and speak comfortably unto her.’ He restores the vines he had taken away, and transforms the valley of Achor into a door of hope. The importance of this change can be appreciated if we remember that the Hebrew word achor means ‘trouble’. The valley of trouble becomes a door of hope for the forgiven soul.
The inner meaning of the story of Hosea, in its original context, obviously concerns the children of Israel. It relates to the spiritual prostitution and adulteries committed by the Hebrews, their violations of the precepts of Yaveh, their compromises with foreign idols, but it also shows "Israel’s repentance and the forgiveness granted by God- the forgiveness granted to the penitent adulteress ‘as in the day when she came up out of the land of Egypt.’
All this is a direct historical interpretation of the text. But the words that the Spirit spoke by the mouth of Hosea hold infinitely more than this particular meaning. The story of Hosea’s wife is the story of each one of us. To each of us, however unfaithful we may have been to God, the Lord of Love opens the door of hope.
In the term ‘door of hope’ we find the conjunction of two words, two ideas. There is hope and there is the door. These two ideas have much in common; both of them express- the one psychologically, the other graphically- the idea of a threshold, an entrance, an introduction. Let us examine more closely what hope is, and what a door is.
Hope means first of all a period of waiting, of waiting for someone or something. It implies ‘faith’ in a certain kind of coming- in ‘the coming’. One does not know but one believes. It is a moral certainty, an inner certainty, not a scientific certainty. This waiting is inspired by love. Indeed love is its very foundation. One hopes only for what one loves. Thus hope is not only a matter of waiting. It is waiting permeated by love.
Here we must distinguish between our ‘hopes’- in the plural- and our ‘Hope’ in the singular. I shall use the plural word for those particular things, those limited things, which we want to see happen, but which often merely signify our egotistical will. In this sense we may hope to recover from an illness, succeed in an enterprise, pass an examination. These are ‘hopes’. But Hope is something quite different. Hope is a wish, a desire, a waiting, that has a bearing not merely upon a special object, but upon the whole of our destiny. There is the same difference between hopes and Hope as between sections of a curve and the curve in its entirety. If we consider only one part of the curve of our life, we may get an impression of failure, defeat, frustration. But we ought to be looking at the whole curve of our existence with a confidence inspired by love. Death itself, a moment of unique importance, is only a moment, a point, on the curve. The curve of our life is not an inverse curve. It is an outward curve, thrown outwards by our Creator towards the divine Limitlessness. We are not, by ourselves, limitless. Nothing created is limitless. But if we have received into ourselves the Love that is without limits, we have already become participants, by grace, of this divine Infinity.
What is the summit of Hope? It is the moment when we think that hope no longer exists, and when nevertheless we refuse to despair. Saint Paul spoke of Abraham ‘who against hope believed in hope’. Here we are touching upon the problem of suffering, so intimately linked with the ideas of Hope and of Limitless Love. I believe that the deepest response to the questions arising from human suffering and the existence of evil, not only human but cosmic, is given to us by the belief in a suffering God, a suffering Love. But you must be quite clear what I mean by this: there is no question of a diminished or defeated God. We are concerned with a victorious God who takes all human suffering himself in order to surmount it, a God in whom the Passion and the Resurrection co-exist eternally, a God who is no stranger to any of our afflictions, who is indeed more intimately close to them than we ourselves. I wish I had time to reflect with you upon the theme of the suffering God and the supreme Pity. But this is not the time or the place. I would simply like to remind you of two passages in Holy Scripture. One is about the three children whom King Nebuchadnezzar cast into the burning fiery furnace (and here we rediscover one of the aspects of the Burning Bush): ‘Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire... and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.’ And here is the other passage: ‘Love is strong as death... Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it.’
Hope will cease to exist for those who, after death, see God. Faith and Hope will then pass away, and Love alone will remain. But during our earthly lives, during the time of our journey and our pilgrimage, Hope acts as a stimulant and an impetus to Love. We must stop thinking and speaking about our little individual hopes. Their disappointment trivial compared to the limitless Hope which, because it rings from Limitless Love, can never be disappointed. Let us instead give ourselves to the power of this great Hope. When a stone is thrown into water the ripples radiate in ever wider and wider circles, and thus it is with Hope. Hope sinks deep into us, its repercussions radiate through us to infinity.
Everlasting Hope is the hope of the dawn and the brightness of the morning. There is a difference between the way we ourselves count time and the way God counts it. We start our reckoning with the morning, with the joy of the sunrise, and our day proceeds towards the darkness, sadness, tragedy of night. But no less than six times in the first chapter of Genesis God is shown as creating days which begin in the evening and progress towards morning and then high noon. This brings us back to the fullness of the light of the Burning Bush and of Limitless Love. Each day of our lives should consist of this progression from limited hopes and from a love threatened by death towards the brightness of the morning and the high noon of Limitless Love.
Now let us return, if you agree, to the book of Hosea, and to our text on the door of hope. You have already seen how Hope is the spontaneous reaction, the first response, to the discovery of Limitless Love. We enter into Limitless Love through the door of hope. This entrance means the beginning of possession, though not yet complete possession (and besides, it is Limitless Love who can possess us; we ourselves cannot be the possessors). And here I want to remind you of a text in the Book of Revelation, addressed to the Church of Philadelphia: ‘Behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it.’ These words are spoken to each one of us. Before each of us is opened Hosea’s door of hope, and this is the very same door of which the Apocalypse tells, the door which no man can shut, which gives access to the Kingdom of Love.
What is this door? It is the door of the present opportunity, whatsoever that may be. Glancing back over the whole course of our lives, our chief impression may be of a succession of missed opportunities. Oh, if only I had known! Oh, if I had acted differently in those circumstances! Oh, if it could happen over again! But we cannot live our lives again. Admittedly there have been lost chances. They will not return. But these lost chances are as nothing compared to the new chances God will offer to us- compared to those he offers us at this very moment. And even though I should be given only one more chance before
I die to seize a divine opportunity, so long as I do seize it this last-minute fulfillment will compensate for all the previous chances I have missed, will indeed annul them.
It is thus, so it seems to me, that one must understand the Gospel parable of the five foolish virgins. They had missed their chance. They had been late: ‘And the door was shut.’ How can we reconcile this stern parable with the compassionate saying about the door which is open before us, which no man can shut? The foolish virgins (and we ourselves, how often!) had been asleep, had left their lamps without oil, had missed the coming of the Bridegroom, had found themselves outside a closed door. Nevertheless, later on, new opportunities may have presented themselves to the foolish virgins, and to us God is offering them constantly.
Every day, at every moment, the door of hope opens before us. The resulting opportunity is different for each one of us. It may be that the door opens onto some exceptional task for which God has chosen us. But usually the opportunity or possibility brought to us by the present moment is not something spectacular and sensational. The door opens before us not so that we may do extraordinary deeds, but so that we may do the most ordinary things in an extraordinary way, thereby imparting to these ordinary things the temperature and the flame of the Burning Bush and the Love without limits.
The door is about to open before me now. It is now- never tomorrow- that I must go through it. Perhaps the door appears to be shut. But what a lamentable mistake to sit in front of it, merely looking at it, waiting for someone else to come and open it for me! I have only to push gently (the beginning of an effort, or at least an intention, is necessary on my own part) and it will open of itself. What am I saying? I need only advance towards it, and already it is opening of its own accord, like the automatic doors at an airport.
We must remind ourselves, however, that the door of hope is no more than an approach to Limitless Love. Participation in this same Love, in eternal life, is something quite different. There is a parallel here with engagement and marriage. The betrothal coincides in meaning with the door of hope. The ring is already placed on the finger of the betrothed. It is a time of joy. But Limitless Love calls us, from henceforth, to a closer union.
This brings us back once more to the prophet Hosea: ‘I will give her... the valley of Achor for a door of hope, and she shall sing there, as in the days of her youth, and as in the day when she came up out of the land of Egypt. And it shall be at that day... that thou shalt call me Ishi, and shalt call me no more Baali.’ Baali means ‘my master’, Ishi means ‘my husband’. From the moment when we pass through the door of hope, Limitless Love comes towards us. Is this Love still that immeasurable gift, the promised Love? No, it would be an understatement to say that. This Love is already the Love which is bestowed. Love says to us: ‘From now on I shall no longer be thy master. Dost thou not desire me as thy husband? In this world our union will doubtless be very imperfect. Yet it is my own wish that thou shouldst call me "husband".’
Source: Fr Lev Gillet, 1988, Encounter at the Well, Mowbray, London, pp. 70-75.