Wait for the Lord, whose day is near; wait for the Lord, be strong, take heart! -Taize Community
The darkness of Advent has seemed more opaque to me this week as we light the third candle- more illumination, but thicker and heavier fog. A third candle: in some traditions this new one is pink to pay attention to the up close and personal story that Mary brings to Advent and Christmas. But even a pink candle has not dispelled the darkness for me this week. The particular darkness of which I speak is the conflict and malaise which is viral in communities of faith. Every day, it seems, I encounter a new story of disillusionment, of drift, of division in those of the same tradition or of those squaring off against those of another tradition. I think of Anne Lamott’s comment in Traveling Mercies that “it is enough to make Jesus drink gin from a cat dish;” that for me captures the flavor of the gloom.
I am persuaded by those who are Informed and Expert that as a Church, we are in the midst of a huge sea change in our understanding of, beliefs about and practice. It is a profound grasp of the obvious to say that the old ways and forms are not holding or useful in our current millieus. Name recognition doesn’t sell a denomination any longer, nor always does a current mode of worship or organization plan for the community. Models for new ways are being thrown up on Power Point, blame is being flung from top and from bottom. But worst of all, there is an unkindness and despair in our conversation, in our tone and in our will to act and to move. That intensifies both the density of the darkness and points up the need for a vision beyond the darkness.
Into human systems of hopelessness, Isaiah shines a welcome and liberating panorama in chapter 35: a blossoming desert, a singing wilderness, glory all around, populated with clear-eyed keen-eared folk leaping and singing along the bank of the water streams, pools and rushes. Most strikingly there a safe road home right in the middle of the former wasteland; no one can get lost, no one under attack, just safe, companionable, joy-filled passage to the hearth of God. How I long for that vision to be a reality in our communities of faith!
But today it is Advent still…still only partially illuminated, still dangerous, still unclear. So I with my faithful friends wait. And watch! Robert Jewett says in his Jesus Against the Rapture : “To watch is to be prepared for the unexpected… A change is in the offing, but no one knows what direction it will take.” So I am keeping eyes peeled, ears tuned for the unexpected, and I find it is there. Alongside the whinging and wringing of hands, there appear stories, maybe in a quieter hue, of the one who after years of seeking to worship with integrity has found a surprising place in which to do that – an alternative service in her own church of origin. There is the story of the one who has struggled to find a place in a community that is torn with conflict by reaching out to the “enemy,” the one who feels like a polar opposite, for conversation and hope of reconciliation. I am warmed by the brave ones who are letting go of their place of privilege in the structure of the organization in order to listen more closely to what the Spirit is saying and where She is leading in the lives of others. And so with open eyes, ear and heart I want to watch for those signs.
And I watch for the wind of the Spirit in my own soul. Who is needing to hear a word of peace from me? What breaks in friendship need to be set right? How is my tone of voice when I come to the discussion table? Is it welcoming and compassionate? Am I willing to let the sorrow and singing from past hurt flee away? The vision is there for me, for all of us, even in the dark.
Wait for the Lord whose day is near; wait for the Lord, be strong, take heart!