But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. (Romans 8:20-21)



In Hoping with Pain, I wrote about how my hope got lost in the physical and how I needed a new narrative. Now I want to explore a paradox about hope with you, that though it cannot be in the physical, hope must become physical for it to be real.

“Spiritual knowledge must have a solid lasting strength in you. It is not something to be enjoyed occasionally, as happens with those who do not work for it, who only know of it from what others tell them or whose acquaintance with it is, so to speak, like that of some fragrance in the air. It is something to be hidden, perceived, and felt in one’s innards.”
John Cassian (Conferences, 14.13)

John Cassian wrote these words in the early fifth century and is venerated in both the Eastern and Western Christian traditions. Here he speaks the wisdom of God: that hope is something that must be deep within us, made our own, part of our physical being, “felt in one’s innards.”

I find it quite compelling that God models hope to us through creation. From heavens that declare the glory of God (Psalm 19) to trees of the field clapping their hands and mountains breaking forth in song (Isaiah 55:12), among beasts who can teach us the works of the Lord (Job 12:7-9) and rocks which cry out if we stay silent (Luke 19:37-40), all of creation is eagerly anticipating Christ’s return with hope (Romans 8:19-21).



Then, there’s the fact that God came and inhabited the crown of God’s handiwork: the human being. He literally made our innards His innards, our skin His skin, breathed as we breathe, felt as we feel. The second person of the Trinity incarnated (and all that entails in Jesus Christ’s life, death, resurrection and ascension) is our foundation of hope.

Scripture’s phrase “Christ in you” is the preposition of hope becoming physical, entering our “bowels” (to use a seventeenth-century term for the seat of human emotion) – not just our heads but also our “hearts.” If the Scriptures were written today, they might talk of our hope being felt in our nervous system (half of which is below the neck), maybe even becoming automatic and an integral part of our physical existence.

All this does not happen without some work on our part, and our physical selves can develop an autopilot all their own. I learned this lesson in a pain management program for people suffering from chronic conditions. We learned that one of the awful things that happens when you suffer chronically is that your brain decides to take shortcuts and begins to skip the all-important processing step of deciding what kind of message it’s getting. Instead, it just assumes it’s a pain message, producing a vicious pain loop that we don’t even know is happening inside ourselves.

BUT — we are not without hope! It is possible to “rewire” and build new neural pathways in our nervous system through both thought exercises and physical sensation. In other words, embodied learning along with mental reflection can help us teach our body to “show up” differently.



Do you know the best ways of rewiring your nervous system? Along with deep breathing and laughter, expressing gratitude (not just thinking about it, but writing it down, saying it out loud, especially to someone else, making thankfulness physical) is the most effective way to build new neural pathways, to bring calm and well-being to the slothfulness and ensuing chaos in the nervous system.

Being physically thankful is the best gift you can give yourself for nervous system health. Now get this… second only to the command “Do not be afraid,” the most often repeated exhortation in Scripture is some version of “Be thankful.” We literally learn God’s design for physical thankfulness from both general and special revelation.

What does gratitude have to do with hope and living the true? It is my firm conviction that when we embody hope we also embody our thankfulness towards God. When we make our thankfulness physical, we are expressing our hope that God and God’s work is not yet done on this earth. Making hope physical is not the same as hoping in physical things but proclaiming the goodness and glory of God this very moment in word and deed. It is bravely protesting against the sloth, darkness, chaos and principalities of this world. It shows that there is a truer reality of peace coming into being, even already here.

If we don’t do it, creation will take up the song. Hope will be made real and physical, one way or another. It is the way of God.

First published on Reformed Journal: Hoping with Pain. Published with permission.

Yellow Bubbles
Chelsey Harmon

Chelsey Harmon

Chelsey is a minister in the Christian Reformed Church, currently serving her calling through full-time study at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia. As part of a ThM in Spiritual Theology, she spends her time reading, researching and writing about 17th century Puritan Mysticism (experiencing the presence of God). Chelsey also writes the weekly Lectionary Gospel Sermon Commentary for the Center for Excellence in Preaching. 

Called to Hope

Called to Hope

Jesus is the enduring, timeless, and everlasting hope who came to seek, serve, call, forgive, rescue, redeem, and save.

Skip to content