Hope as Resistance

It feels more radical rather than religious to hope these days. So perhaps we’re on to something.

 

fullsizeoutput_30faThe first week of Advent is themed hope. The beckoning yonder that has no interest in denying the bleeding wounds. Hope shines under tears. It is at its best paired with sorrow.

The subversiveness of hope was lost on me as a child, and in different parts of my adult life. It’s a common word in the surface use. I hope I can find a parking spot. I hope they have my size. I hope…

Hope was veiled to me before finding greater solidarity and firsthand experience with suffering. Much of the Good News was neutralized. Much of this season was rhetoric. Hope was pretty and nice, like me, and easily packable like a wooden Christmas ornament.

Hope does not have its roots in well wishes and merriment. Nor is its head in the sand. Hope is defiant though the night is deafening. 

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This Christmas, we are practicing and whispering hope with fists clenched and arms linked. We are fully feeling the brokenness. Our feet are wet with mud and blood of chaos, pain, fear, and disappointment. Suddenly, this innocuous word HOPE, has become a battle cry for the warriors. The shroud of comfort and convenience has been shed and the power of the chant, of the mere suggestion of hope, is blowing us over.

Here people are bullied with threats of eviction and deportation, shame and disdain… and we read about that unwed teen finds herself home to Hope, pregnant, highly favored and honored.

Here the guilty are acquitted, and the innocent shot in the back, unmourned… and we read the father is visited, assured of his integrity, protected and seen.

Here the immigrated and enslaved, the stolen and the shuffled, are hurting with new rejection… and we read the nation is gathered, counted, and answered by God on High, starting with the lowest.

Here the corrupt and evil are taking positions with less care and fewer caveats than ever before… and we read the heavenlies led the mystic and the mother to safety, denying the powers that be for the Power that was, is and is to come.

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So we hope with our time. We pray and listen, though the lists grow long and the invitations scatter. We create things and say no to things because hope causes us to do differently. And is anything but automatic. We call on behalf of the voiceless. We sign on behalf of the unnamed.

We hope with our dollars. We give more than we have ever before. We invest and save in places that abide by hope in humanity and not exploitation. We buy less and we buy smart.

We hope with our hearts. We confess the ugliness beginning in us. We force quiet to hear the quiet forces. We share and hold each other when despair is choking. We open to people we don’t understand and we are watchful for those vulnerable.

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Yes, we hope with wide eyes open and tears pouring out. It is our resistance, to the numbing injustice and the end of the story; it is our protest to the closed doors, plugged ears, and empire.

We hope hard though it is hard to hope.

 

This is advent–this is hearts preparing Him room. Though there seems to be no space, no possibility, we hope through the pain. We strain to see the empty stable’s potential. It is the labor before the birth.  We hope hard because we are suffering and angry and upright. We hope hard because He came and He is coming.

 

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Love

It is after the turn of the year, after the day we remembered the Baby King and I am still stringing along the advent themes. And that is just how it is right now.

There are days when the love doesn’t seem thick enough. It doesn’t seem loud enough or near enough or real enough. It doesn’t seem like it can hold the frustrations, the pain, the way we play out lies and tumble in disappointment.

But then, just as I am not defined by a person or a role, but only by His image, Love is not defined by my sense of it. Of them. Or my imperfect dance with its shadowy imitations.

It is January 2nd which seems promising but a flip of the calendar is not reflected in our everyday lives. The vices still stand. The weariness was not wiped. The gaiety does not dissolve the grime.

The advent guide begins with Zephaniah 3:17, which was the verse I had in my profile in the 2002 yearbook. I couldn’t know then how I would lean on that verse hard and long the next year. The year I felt alone and liberated, devastated and thrilled, faith-less and faithful. It says “The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.”

It is hard to think of delighting anyone except my parents and babies. Let alone Him, Love.

When everything falls down around me, my dreams are up for grabs, the suffering of the world and my neighbor weigh in, and I can’t think of how to pray, I sometimes see I know nothing of this Love. And it is actually a relief. This Love that delights, that quiets, that sings. It lifted me in the darkest, private corners of my first year of college by its relentlessness; it has been the backbone to my story, but still I peer at it awkwardly, uncertain and blurry. Sometimes then I see that I have been sacrificing but not loving, like when Israel’s love, just as the prostitute’s, is considered the morning cloud, the early dew–quickly going away (Hosea 6:4-6). I have forgotten that He loved me first, and He loved him first, and her, and them, before I did anything right. Before he changed that habit. Before she realized she was like that. Before they called Them their God.

This Love, that broke in to the lowest parts of the world in the form of a baby, says this:

“I took them up by their arms, but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with the cords of kindness, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bend down to them and fed them” (Hosea 11:3-4).

We are the children, the enslaved, the sick, the asses, the babies. We are the whore that the Love came for, pursues, forgives, delights.

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The Love returns us, returns me, to being a helpless baby. And it meets me when I feel like one. When the advent writing didn’t finish in time, when the Christmas cards didn’t go out, when I forgot to show that person I cared, when I fall, fall, fall. When I forgot that nothing I do or sacrifice replaces holding fast to Love. Holding fast to the first identity of Beloved–of Enough. To a full and divine dependency on a Triune Love Being, like an infant on its caregiver, from dawn till dusk, and through the night. From the first breath.

And He loves us all last too. Still taking us up by our arms, healing us, and wrapping up with cords of kindness. He’s at the end, with the same Love. That is the relief. No matter how poorly I have received and clung to and extended this Love, it is force I do not effect. I cannot mess up the constancy of the invitation.

He came as the invitation. And oh so early in this new year, I receive it again.

Joy

Once, when I was a kid, I got in trouble.

I remember gettin’ a talking to for not showing enough emotion, especially when I was expected to be visibly grateful and happy. I think I was very awkward expressing emotions at some points, which may be hard for you to believe if you have been around me lately. I don’t know why I was almost non-communicative emotionally. I don’t think it was all due to being a brat. 🙂

I have been attending a 3-part class on adoption and substance abuse. Last week was about temperament. One of the dimensions they spoke about was emotional intensity. As a child, I had low emotional intensity. I was rarely hyper, excitable or giddy. I also did not show much sadness or pain. I was happy but also cautious, rational, and rule-oriented. Basically, I was 5 going on 55.

As I have become older, I have become comfortable admitting my emotions as well as a tendency towards melancholy. I am content with not being an optimist. At the same time, such a historical sense of apart-ness from the happy, hyper crowd has left me with a lingering sense of missing joy–like an observer to this great Christian virtue I never got. It has made for an internal dialogue and striving that sets joy as something foreign, other, and a “should” destination that is really tough to get to. I find joy intimidating.

There have been about a million mediocre reflections, devotions and sermons written on joy. I have found few very helpful. At the risk of adding another to the pile, here is what is helping me this year when it comes to the J-word.

Joy is not as much a behavior or demeanor as it is a current.

A space for wonder. Opening. Submitting. Tension. Aim.

I joined the shepherds this morning when I read in Luke 2 of when the angel delivered the news of so-called “great joy.” They saw Him. The area all around them was filled with His glory. They were surrounded by the sacred; they had full view of Love Himself. And yet they also stood there, filled with fear. The good news of great joy didn’t seem to take too quickly. Or did it?

So often in modernity, we are subtly and overtly told we have two choices. Grief or celebration. Democrat or Republican; liberal or conservative. Demonizing or deifying a person. Productivity or healthiness. Separating convictions or moral relativism. Sadness or happiness. All is well or all is lost.

In the current of joy, from what I can tell, there is space for and instead of or. The end of the story is not what it used to be and the field–the announcement–is big enough to handle the glory and the fear.

Therefore, I can cry over losing a baby girl without losing the possibility of rejoicing over her first holidays, even if she is never told about me. I can choose to accommodate and be hospitable to people with religious and cultural rules that are different to mine, without losing my own point of view and witness. I can lament in the current of joy. I can be completely hurt and I can forgive the perpetrator. Though I don’t exactly know where I am headed since I joined this stream, I do not have to stay put in the Pain.

Joy can be before us, as much as it feels beyond us. Much like the newborn King–who, for the joy set before Him, endured suffering. Joy can carry us, when our feet cannot find the ground but in our core we insist that there is more to this story, that there is redemption for the darkest moments. Joy frees us to remember that we are not the center of the universe but we are attended to completely. Joy shifts us so we remember that Shalom is for all people, for all parts of people, for me, for the Other, for this.

That’s all I need. Not a new personality. Not a beaming demeanor. Just a shift, a space–a to-be-continued lightness. To be included in and count myself a part of a well-ending journey–that is joy enough this year.

Hope

It is a chance for us all to be pregnant.

Man, woman, child. It is the time to be waiting and expectant. And maybe a little hormonal.

We join Mary and Joseph in the anticipation of a baby King. We reach back in time, and feel this present time, and hope for a coming time that is, at the very least, different. No amount of decorations can lift our hearts. No consumption of holiday drinks and sales can mend our souls. We are longing, we are waiting. It is Christmastime.

This year, I feel the burden of Mary’s role, of her being given a bewildering part to play in a salvific drama that largely does not include her.  From the time she heard that she carried a Savior, that Joseph could not claim Him as his son, that His name had been chosen for her, she must have sensed the awkwardness. She must have had an inkling that this road was not only an honor, it was a grief. Not just embarrassing, but bereaving.

She would face the humiliation and isolation. She would cry out in labor pains, and lose her figure. She would have all the worries and urges of a new mom. But from conception, this baby was not hers alone. He–the Messiah–was the Son of God. He would not call her house His home. He would differentiate from her before she was ready. He was born to die, rise, and ascend. She would lose Him and it started before she even had Him. She couldn’t know Him fully.

Yesterday, I held a sleeping baby girl while I hung up a 28-year-old ornament with my other arm. It is a piece of fabric, in a tiny quilter’s hoop, with printed words speaking of all the love a daughter brings to Christmas. It is dated 1985. It is a familiar ornament as I have hung it each year for as long as I can remember. Tears came to my eyes as I realized the predicament I was in, willingly, painfully. The sleeping baby in my arms is almost surely going to move and be someone else’s daughter. She was entrusted to us and while we had always hoped, we also always knew, that others may come forward with higher priority than we. This darling knows our smells, and we know her cries. She enlarges the hearts of my sons but they cannot understand that each week, I am holding my breath, wondering if this week, we will lose her. This is a unique and difficult beauty.

It struck me as I looked at her and looked at the tree through quiet tears, that 1985 was the first Christmas I had had with my parents. It was not my first Christmas, but it was the first Christmas with my family. Though I was over a year old that December, it was the first time they had their daughter during advent. They had waited. They had followed other paths that did not result in a firstborn child. They had been pregnant many times over, in a way, before that ornament could be hung.

I have no idea if we will spend her first Christmas with her, but I know that we are not her family, though our feelings betray us.

I am no Mary. I am not waiting for the Savior, nor growing Him inside my womb. I am not facing public scorn and have the benefit of the Lord’s Prayer, her son’s prayer, to guide me this pregnant season. 

But I can see her story in a new, heart-wrenching way this advent time, and that helps give meaning to this spot. I can appreciate not being able to lay claim in any conventional way to someone you are caring for with all your heart. I can appreciate, though cannot emulate, the faith she must have clung to, the wide picture that must have softened her suffering. She is a hero of heroes. She, in a messy, human, awe-inspiring way, is part of the reason we today can sing “Joy to the World” at the end of all of this.

I cannot hang a new ornament about a daughter this Christmas. But I have the comfort of an old one. I cannot call her mine or name her but I can show her the Christmas lights and begin advent with her lying on my chest. Even as she fills our arms for now, we continue to wait, to make room, to anticipate. I love her with urgency; we grieve even as we gain. We continue to be pregnant, arms linked with the rest of the Bride, once again–searching for the star, yearning for salvation. May hope steady us for peace.

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