In The Bleak Midwinter

My spirit is longing for you, my God; my spirit is waiting in hope.         -Taize

What a time of darkness in the world! Whether I am tracking politics, worlds conflicts, religious strife or life journeys with those  l love, it is bleak and fraught and painful.  “Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone,” say Christina Rossetti.

And so we light the candle for Advent Four, the last one before the Christ candle is lit at Christmas. Surely the additional illumination and warmth is welcome with this new candle, but it also broadens the detail of the bleakness as well. Have I known about the human rights issues in the Dominican Republic? have I paid attention to the family of the child gunned down in the cross-fire of gang violence? am I aware of the toll taken on Dan Choi as he stands up for justice in the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell debate? and what of the grief of faithful pastors trying to tend to the dying ones against the background of the Christmas hoop-la, both commercial and programmatic?

In this Advent bleakness I have tried to attend carefully to the dark, but equally to the waiting; after all, isn’t much more of my life about waiting? I am waiting for Congress to act on the side of justice and mercy. I am waiting for the Church to find a way to be one body. And I am waiting with those who are ill, those who are captured by fear and loathing , those for who, resources seem to have run out. And I long for the Light to shine, once and for all. And so I Hope.

Often my muscles of Hope are so frail. Yet the four candles keep calling me to Hope in the Holy One, whose love lasts for a life time, whose mercy never fails, whose promise is trustworthy. Hope has to be the style in which I live, not necessarily the analyses that ping around in my brain.  It is Hope that takes me out in the rain to sit with one who is suffering. It is Hope that stretches on the phone line over miles to listen and encourage. It is Hope that wrangles my little ones to church on Christmas Eve to see lambs, sheep and turkeys accompany the Holy Family to the manger. It is Hope that gentles me along the days and night of a decades old marriage with love and forgiveness. It is Hope that prods my letters and donations to the agents of action for mercy and justice. It is Hope that swells in this season as we sing not only of the events of Advent and Christmas, but of the vision laid out for us by Jesus and by the prophets of the time when war and suffering will be not more, and God will away the tears from all eyes.

Much of this week I have spent with one whose days on this earth seem finite, the end of life in the body seems much nearer than we thought possible. Disease seem to be progressing, medical hope elusive. So we are conversing about how those of us who remain will remember, celebrate and worship. It might seem counter-intuitive to encounter Hope in planning a memorial service, but that is where we have found it. We have reflected on what a service for a Witness to the Resurrection means for this faithful one, who has in life has suffered with brokenness and depression alongside faithful and expansive inclusion of the lonely and outcast. As we have brought music and text and friendship and memory together, we are witnesses to the Hope that has propelled and sustained us in our living a life with Christ. And we have known the Hope that that lies beyond our bodies, the Life that continues with God in Christ after death has taken us home. Hope has reminded us that each conversation is precious, that each act of generosity matters, that each person we have known is a child of God. And that God continues to work in the world through frail ones, mild ones, faithful ones. Julian is right: “All will be well, all will be well, and all manner of things will be well. ”

My spirit is longing for you, my God; my spirit is waiting in hope.

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