Tag Archives: Advent

Imagining a Different Kingdom

This past week, I devoted a few hours to reading a Year-in-Review special magazine edition. I tend to love end of the year things, but this time the evidence of oppression in 2013 seemed to shout at me from the page: chemical warfare in Syria, the Boston Marathon bombing, three women imprisoned in a suburban house for a decade, a boy in a hoodie shot and killed as if it were his destiny, the high rate of sexual assault in the military, a song dripping with unapologetic misogyny being the big hit of the summer. The bad news in one day is fairly easy to dismiss, most of the time, especially because we’re so used to it. The bad news of a year, though? That makes everything go quiet in my head; makes hope seem utterly ridiculous.

Nelson Mandela died, and it seemed fitting for someone who chased after wild dreams, moving far beyond expectation, to pass on during a season of hope. The first anniversary of the shootings at Newtown fell during this season; it too seemed fitting. I drove around town with my two younger children buckled into their seats, listening to the remembrances on the radio, weeping for little AvielleAna Grace, and Dylan, for the unknown stories, for their brave parents. The world is still waiting, still groaning under a heavy weight.

Image

Yesterday we sang a hymn called Canticle of the Turning; one of many that I’ve never heard before. I’m most familiar with the hymns that speak of longing for heaven, and they are beautiful. But there’s a whole other kind of hymn: the kind that longs for justice in the here and now. This kind you sing with a shaky voice, if you can stand to sing the words at all:

From the halls of power to the fortress tower,

not a stone will be left on stone.

Let the king beware for your justice tears

every tyrant from his throne.

The hungry poor shall weep no more,

for the food they can never earn;

There are tables spread, every mouth be fed,

for the world is about to turn.

Though the nations rage from age to age,

we remember who holds us fast:

God’s mercy must deliver us

from the conqueror’s crushing grasp

This saving word that our forbears heard

is the promise which holds us bound,

‘Til the spear and rod can be crushed by God,

who is turning the world around.

When you press your ear to the ground, you hear all sorts of things.

Shane Claiborne speaks of the prophets who “invited people to dream of the world as it could be and not just accept the world as it is.” He turns guns into farm tools, even though there’s nothing much more valuable to self-protection than a gun; even though there is nothing much less valuable to immediacy than planting seeds. He imagines a different kingdom.

Greg Boyd does, too. He contrasts the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world in his book The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power is Destroying the ChurchIt’s an uncomfortable book, to say the least, even though I agree with most of what he says, because to believe these things and to act like I do are two different things. He writes:

The kingdom of the world is intrinsically tribal in nature, and is heavily invested in defending, if not advancing, one’s own people-group, one’s nation, one’s ethnicity, one’s state, one’s religion, one’s ideologies, or one’s political agendas. That is why it is a kingdom characterized by perpetual conflict. The kingdom of God, however, is intrinsically universal, for it is centered on simply loving as God loves. It is centered on people living for the sole purpose of replicating the love of Jesus Christ to all people at all times in all places without condition. (p. 47, Kindle edition.)

Some days this feels like nothing but imagination. Some days I have to face that it might just be. Then I hear Ana Grace’s mother Nelba speak of how she lit 28 candles to remember the dead (not 26, not even 27) and how she refuses to use words like monster to describe Adam Lanza, instead extending humanity to him. I think of how Nadia Bolz-Weber’s husband said to her that “every time we draw a line between us and others, Jesus is always on the other side of it.”

There is unfathomable light, in the here and now. Maybe it’s true; maybe God is turning the world around. I don’t always see it, but I hope it’s true.

Advertisements

4 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Sabbath

At present we hear

only the sound of

hush, hush, hush

and so take our joy

in things like warm red wine, like

a blanket and socked feet touching,

in the hours-long nap the babies have settled

into, in choosing which song-words to teach them

this season.

All is as it should be, nothing to fix,

nothing to re-arrange.

Nothing to do except lay my head on your shoulder

as the snow parades down and we applaud its perfection.

Stop, rest, wait.

Come evening we ladle out a slow-cooked dinner, clink

water cups all around,

and light the second candle.

Fill us with good things, I breathe.

Today is for hush and glow.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Illusion & Light

Recently I had a conversation with a friend about Advent, and how it can be a good time for grieving. It’s a season of outer sheen, but many people are processing things in the shadows. There’s a peculiar kind of grief that hovers over the season.

In some ways, this sadness stems from the fictional idea of a “perfect” Christmas that advertisements feed us. Consumerism lures year round, but this time of year the pull is especially strong. We’re not just buying a toy or a book, we’re told cleverly, we’re buying an experience, a memory, a feeling. But then the day comes and goes, and whatever problems we have are still problems. The idea of a perfect Christmas is an illusion, and the aftermath brings an aching, empty feeling.

But there’s more to it than just that. Judy Garland captures a beautiful melancholy in the movie Meet Me in St. Louis. When she croons have yourself a merry little Christmas, I feel that thing I don’t quite have words for, that remembrance of childhood hopes and anticipation and wonder, mixed in with all the adult realities of my life. Christmas can be a lot of work, and I miss loved ones who aren’t around, but I’m also missing something I never actually had. 

I’ve realized in the past few years, as my curiosity about the liturgical year has grown, that Advent is about homesickness for the Kingdom of God. I didn’t come to this idea myself, but it gives me language for something I’ve felt many times.

There’s an undercurrent to Advent that invites us to enter into the world’s pain more deeply. To pour from our fragile pitcher of grief into the vast ocean of sorrow and then wade out into it, letting the waves crash against our legs. To feel a little more than we let ourselves feel at other times. Our pain calls us to see each other, to see ourselves, to understand and name our longing for a different Kingdom.

someday soon, we all will be together

I love the tradition of lighting Advent candles. Each Sunday, as the tradition calls for, we light one, then two, then three, then all. Each light reminds us that we’re drawing closer to Christmas, but the unlit candles also remind us that we’re in a season of waiting.

1473069_10100341528676081_1806314301_n

A profound difference exists between the disappointment that comes when Christmas presents don’t actually fill our void and the sharing of grief that Advent calls us to. Both involve sadness, yes, but one points to an earthly kingdom and one points us to the upside-down kingdom where God is at work in the shadows, inviting us to join. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Rather than something to dread, setting apart a season to tune in to the pain of the world and join that world in waiting for relief is a gift. We remember our own losses, unmet expectations, “the hopes and fears of all the years” and we wait, quietly.

I’d like to learn to be better at quiet, this Advent. At rest. It’s only December 3rd but I’m feeling slightly anxious because we have no decorations up, not even those four Advent candles. I’m very much vulnerable to the illusion of a perfect Christmas. I like order, and plans, and not missing out. My instinct is to channel my anxiety, which is probably really grief, into frantic attempts at creating that illusion to make myself feel better. And it’s true: the glowing tree and the wooden Nativity and the kids’ crafts I’ve saved will make me feel good. Beauty points to its own Author. But then I think about the mess of this season. The mess of a baby on the way and no marriage certificate to make things tidy. Mary pushing out a baby in the messiest of conditions. All those months, giving a body to God, putting flesh on a Spirit, tissue differentiating into muscle and bone, taking all from a tired, vulnerable, unspeakably brave mother. It fills me with hope to realize that Mess can point to God, too. 

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. Ah, she knew about stillness, about rest. Can I make a space for the Child, right here? Can I find the holy space that contains the beautiful and the messy, and choose to be still in it?

This season seems to be brimming with the purest kind of rest. I don’t want illusion, not really, even though I’ll forget and chase it from time to time. I want illumination. To bring my whole, messy self to the manger, yet again.

4 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized