The Thing With Feathers

Notes on Hope From a Women’s Retreat

Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul

And sings the tune without the words

And never stops at all.—Emily Dickinson

Dr. Nicole M. Roccas

This is probably my favorite poem ever. I memorized it while I was on a solitary writing “retreat” at Seagrove Beach a number of years ago. So when I learned that Nicole Roccas was going to talk about hope at our (virtual) Women of St. John Orthodox Church retreat this past Saturday, I was, well, hopeful. (For more about Nicole, check out her blog.) I’ve read first two books, and blogged about them here:

Counterpunches: Chiseling a Crack in Despondency (This contains links to several posts about Nicole’s book Time and Despondency, which I loved.)

Under the Laurel Tree: Grieving Infertility

Surviving 2020

About 24 women joined the Zoom retreat on Saturday, which was titled, “Surviving 2020.” She talked about how 2020 is an unprecedented year, since most of us didn’t live through either World War or previous pandemics, the Great Depression, etc. The future is unclear. I love what she said about that:

I can live in any version of the future as long as there is hope. The way we relate to the future and to hope is important. Hope is a necessary survival skill.

Hope is NOT . . .

In Session I Nicole talked about three things hope is NOT: (1) Contingent on our circumstances, (2) A vague and fuzzy optimism, and (3) Only about the hereafter, sharing quotes from St. John Chrysostom and Martin Luther. I love this one (below).

Hope IS . . .

Session II brought us into the three things hope IS: (1) Transcendent, (2) Relational, and (3) A virtue/spiritual discipline. My favorite quotes from this session:

Hope is a practiced habit of seeing the world through the eyes of faith.

Hope is the imagination of faith. Hope imagines the faithful energy of God that brought about the incarnation and how it will continue into the future. We look at earthly situations through the realm of hope. This is how we can help others and show love in every situation.

Righting Group

For Session III I was asked to lead a “Righting Group” exercise. This is similar to what our women’s monthly writing group does. I suggest a prompt (or two or three) and we all write quietly for 20 minutes, and then whoever would like to reads what they have written. Sometimes the readings elicit wonderful discussions. Other times tears or laughter. But always, they strengthen our relationships. They build community, which is the purpose of the group.

Instead of a specific prompt, I decided to let everyone write a brief reflection on anything from Nicole’s talks. Five women read what they had written, and one has given me permission to share her words (anonymously). These reflections are written spontaneously with no editing.

Hope is for the Long Haul

Hope is moving from transactional to transformative. Hope is transitioning from being in the driver’s seat to handing over the reins. Hope is the security that storms brew not only because you took a wrong turn, but because larger than life events outside your control collided. Hope is seeking the presence of God in the storm, hiding under the wing of the Almighty, confident that He is your protector, not your tormentor. Hope is running towards God and not away from Him.

The Imagination of Faith

I’m going to share my own reflection here, inspired by Nicole’s words that “Hope is the imagination of faith.” For some reason John Lennon’s song, “Imagine,” came into my mind, and although I have some different views than those presented in Lennon’s lyrics, the tune is haunting. So here’s a different—hopefully positive upbeat—version of “Imagine.”

Imagine heaven as a place on earth.

Imagine God sending us His Son.

Imagine His Son dying on the cross for us.

Imagine how Mary felt.

Imagine the years God’s people waited for Him to save them.

Imagine how God waits for us to turn to Him.

Imagine the faith it took for the disciples to follow Christ.

Imagine the hope of the martyrs.

Imagine the hope of the lower caste people in India.

Imagine the hope of the people in concentration camps.

Imagine the hope of the slaves on the plantations.

Imagine the hope of their ancestors in American today.

Imagine a life of hope and peace no matter who is President or how our country is ruled.


When I was introducing the “righting” session, I mentioned journaling as a spiritual and reflective practice. I began journaling years ago after reading Julia Cameron write about “morning pages” in her book The Artist’s Way. (Here’s a new 25th anniversary edition.) When I started my blog in 2007 I quit journaling. Blogging is a kind of journaling, only public rather than private. But when I blog I spend more time on the prose—writing and editing. Journaling can be spontaneous.

Nicole has a wonderful book to help new journalists get started:  

A Journal of Thanksgiving: Record Three Years of Gratitude in a Sentence a Day

This would make a wonderful Christmas gift for yourself or someone you love.

Thanks for reading!