I know Advent is long gone, but I am in class this week and we have spent time thinking about lament. Our teacher brought this piece to class as an illustration of orientation, disorientation, and re-orientation. Based on the theme we had during the journey of Advent I just wanted to share it with you all…
Christmas day has come and gone and I do not feel much reorientation.
The baby Jesus in the hundreds of nativity scenes decorating my home still carries for me the promise of hope. But, the religion which dares to claim his name has a history as violent as any other religion. Even now, I hear those who claim to represent him attack those who do not see everything exactly as they choose to interpret it. The evangelical church where I raised my daughters is continuing the all too familiar pattern of devouring their own. I cannot turn back that direction with any conviction or hope.
My country is headed in directions I find dangerous not just for ourselves but for others around the globe. Our election process is handing power to a man who promises to reject the refugee, to bomb those he deems unworthy, and who has shown a constant trait of attacking anyone who displeases him at home. With the legislative branch controlled by the same party that brought him to power, much that I believe in may quickly be changed or abandoned. I cannot wave a flag and feel that all is well. I prepare instead for opposition and standing with those in need of allies. I wonder in how many ways I am on the list of those who will face harm.
I turn instead to the wonder of being alive in a universe beyond my mind’s capacities. I turn to positive relationships with my neighbors. I turn to focus on how I treat each person in my daily encounters — students, clerks, other drivers whether courteous or irritating, family members, people who disagree with me…
Perhaps that is all the reorientation I have left; gratitude for my own life and a dedication to be a positive part of other lives.
Maybe it is enough.
““It seems, then,” said Tirian, smiling himself, “that the stable seen from within and the stable seen from without are two different places.”
“Yes,” said the Lord Digory. “Its inside is bigger than its outside.”
“Yes,” said Queen Lucy. “In our world too, a stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.” It was the first time she had spoken, and from the thrill in her voice, Tirian now knew why. She was drinking everything in even more deeply than the others. She had been too happy to speak”
“Apocalyptic shows us what we’re not seeing. It can’t be composed or spoken by the powers that be, because they are the sustainers of “the way things are” whose operation justifies itself by crowning itself as “the way things ought to be” and whose greatest virtue is in being “realistic.” Thinking through what we mean by “realistic” is where apocalyptic begins.” – David Dark Everyday Apocalypse
I hope today and everyday for the next year, we remain present to the possibility of the in-breaking of God, through the noise, pushing beyond our tiny faiths – declaring freedom for captives, care for the orphan and widow, setting a table for the hungry, stitching clothing for the naked.
The Holy will break in despite our attempts at domestication, through and against our rituals, outside the possibility of our believing. A child was born, a moment in which God’s radical love shook empire – stay awake, remain open – we who are giving and receiving gifts at the center of empire may miss the possibilities arising should the Word become flesh and dwell among us.
I was given a mug with elephants on for my 22nd birthday. Nothing special to look at really. Just a mug with elephants on. But special to me because of the friends who gifted it – the girls who had become just like my sisters. Later that year I moved down to London and I brought my elephant mug with me. It seemed like a grown up thing to do – part of the transition from student life to adulthood – a proper job, a proper desk with its own computer, and my own proper mug to drink tea from. And amidst the strangeness of a new city, a new office, a new way of life, the elephant mug was a point of orientation – a reminder of the friends who had bought it for me, who knew me and who would be there no matter what big city life threw my way.
A careless tea-making moment caused calamity – the elephant mug smashed to pieces. I knelt on the kitchen floor to gather the fragments but I didn’t throw them away. I made a throwaway comment to a colleague about my “loss” before heading out into the cold evening.
Arriving at work the next morning I noticed the elephant mug sitting on my desk – seemingly intact. On closer inspection I saw that the colleague to whom I made my throwaway remark (a man who has known war and famine and other horrors which I cannot contemplate) had painstakingly pieced the mug together with masking tape. As one not known for public displays of emotion it causes me no shame to admit that this brought a tear to my eye – that although insignificant in the grand scheme of life, someone had acknowledged something that was important to me, and tried to make amends. No longer fit for its original purpose I used it as a penholder for the remainder of my time there.
And I still have it 15 years later – this broken & repaired mug. I keep it as a reminder that sometimes life gets broken – the person once ever present but who is no longer there; the situation that seemingly never resolves; a dream never realised; the mistakes I walk into, eyes wide open. I keep it as a reminder that despite my best attempts to find a solution all by myself, it is often only with help that I can begin to contemplate putting the pieces back together. And that although things might never be the same again there can be a new plan, a fresh purpose and renewed hope.
In the midst of disorientation the Psalmist reminds us “If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there; if you’re kicked the gut, he’ll help you catch your breath. Disciples so often get into trouble; still, God is there every time.” (Psalm 38: 18-19 MSG)
The solstice has arrived where I live.
Since I no longer believe that either Santa or Baby Jesus magically brings light and wholeness to the world without real work by us, I now contemplate what I will do this year to bring back the light.
Which organizations will I join and support?
What conversations will I participate in and which will I decline to engage?
How will I respond to human actions that increase the darkness, especially those that are local and immediately accessible to me? But also the big picture issues — what choices can I find that actually bring light to darkness?
How will I center myself so that my own internal struggles do not darken the world of others? How will I instead share insights that may help other seekers on similar paths?
This year, in this place, in these times, how will I live love in ways that lighten the world for others?
The dark is a good place to contemplate these things. I do not have easy answers and I need the dark season’s lack of distraction to spend extended time deciding my role in the coming year.
Today the darkness grows again.
Grow, night, give us rest and hide us from those who seek to harm us.
Grow, darkness, until even the light of a single match shines like a beacon.
Then, give us the strength and courage to strike.