Tuesday, December 23, 2014

By the Light of the Stars

Oh holy night
The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Savior's birth

Adam pulls Jayci quietly from her bed still asleep, and waits until we are outside to wake her up. Caden doesn't stir from his sprawled spot under the (probably unnecessary) mosquito nets. The clock ticks past midnight. Jayci clambers slow and groggy from sleep on her daddy's shoulder. Wiping confusion, she asks what we are doing. Just wait, you'll see, we tell her. We walk quiet under the banner of deepest dark sky, feet finding careful footing on the winding path through the golf course to the shore. When we can walk no further, we lay a towel down on the perfect-springy grass on the 11th green, and then tell Jayci: now look up at the stars. She does and gasps, and we laugh. The three of us lay flat-backed, eyes glued to a sky strewn with pinholes of light against the ink-black sky. Why are there so many? she asks. There are always this many stars, we tell her, we just can't usually see them because we live surrounded by so much light and smog.

Oh she sighs. We lay quiet. Salty spray accompanies the waves crashing on the rocks just beyond our toes. Silver-capped waves roll to shore illuminated by a sky full of stars that fall and streak to all of our great delight.

That's the thing about beauty, about marvels. Sometimes I can't see them for all the light and noise. But when I do stumble upon it, I lay breathless in amazement. And if nothing else, I remember how small I am. I am certain only of my own insignificance in the grand story God has painted with broad strokes of crashing waves and with tiny delicate dots of light. I am forced to admit how much I don't know, how many things I don't understand under a vast sky and millions of stars. 
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appear'd and the soul felt its worth.

In case you were wondering, I have, in fact been avoiding writing this post. I realize I promised a response to honest questions from y’all. And I hope you can forgive me. The truth is that I’m tongue-tied around it all. I’m an avid people-pleaser and conflict-avoider, and when I promised an email with some “answers” I forgot that I’m not sure I have any. 

I’ve decided, for now, that I cannot win anyone over or change anyone’s minds with arguments about the state of the world. Statistics and case studies fail to move the heart, I think. But I’ve also realized this season all the ways the world needs desperately to remember how to feel its worth. To know that life matters, all of it. And that #blacklivesmatter isn’t saying that white lives don’t. Because it is not either/or. We have somehow all fallen for the myth of us vs. them. But really, for a world laying in sin and error, there’s only us. And we kid ourselves if we think, again, that injustice anywhere isn’t a threat to justice everywhere. Because we all belong, firmly, on the same side. And as I listen to the news, and read my twitter feed, and try to avoid comment sections where people seem to find the ability for unbearable unkindness, I think afresh of the ways it all points to a broken world. To people, perhaps, who have forgot their own worth, and the worth of every other person.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!

It’s two days until Christmas, and I have what I’ve decided must be the flu. Body aches and constant vomiting make it impossible to sleep, rest, or check any of the millions of things off my Christmas-to-do list. This isn’t how I pictured our Christmas going. I thought there would be clean floors to open presents on, beautifully wrapped gifts under the tree. Christmas breakfast and maybe even mimosas, cookies packages prettily and delivered to neighbors with smiles and hugs.

Some of our families ask if we can help them get gifts to fill the bare spaces under their trees, if they even have one. But I am not even finished buying or wrapping all our own gifts, and I can currently scarcely drag myself more than a few feet from the toilet.

I cant seem to find the thrill of hope I so desperately need. Somehow it got lost, I suppose, in the trappings of all Christmas has become. And I find it hard to live up. Because there’s just so much we are "supposed" to do. Family parties and work parties, and movie nights, and advent readings (of which we have currently done 10/23 which, btw, is a failing score by my calculations). Gorgeously wrapped presents, and healthy but festive treats for the kids. Pinterest wreaths and Christmas card displays, oh and actually mailing out Christmas cards at all. Pretty Christmas Eve outfits, nice gifts for your children, but not too much Santa. Christmas light runs, elfs on shelfs, scarf exchanges, and baskets for the less fortunate. I start to feel worried sometimes, that we’ve made Christmas unattainable for normal moms like me, let alone the very people who are most desperately in need of a thrill of hope. The ones for whom Christmas means more stress, not more hope. The ones who dont have enough, who hear the whole world tell them they aren’t enough. Strangers hand them donated gifts in trash bags, and they smile for a picture, grateful of course.
Fall on your knees
Oh hear the angel voices
Oh night divine
Oh night when Christ was born

I’ve spent some time on my knees the past few days. Granted, it was mostly in front of a toilet and not necessarily in prayer. But still, the form bent low reminds me of a posture that brings me back to the place where I can actually hear the angel voices. Where I can sit in the holy stillness and mess of the night Christ was born. I feel strongly the rift that leads me to lament. For lives lost, for riots and burning buildings, for shootings, and for deaths that pile up quietly. The world mourns and aches this advent season. And all I can do is my best to enter in. To mourn alongside, to lament deaths of brown-skinned boys and police officers alike, to acknowledge a broken world in desperate need of a Savior who will enter in. Which, of course, is just what we find when we actually follow the story to the stable. One who comes wrapped in peace and swaddling clothes, who somehow fully embodies humanity and divinity and offers us a thrill of hope.
Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace

This advent season, I've been spending a lot of time in Isaiah. And, I can’t help but think of all the ways we are brought from darkness to light. But we always start with darkness. With not-knowing, and with prophets who stubbornly proclaimed, even in the very midst of that darkness, the coming Light. Like them, we are people who believe that God shows up how we least expect Him, in the places we didnt even think to look. I read this morning from Isaiah 40: Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken. And I wonder what it would like for uneven ground to become level. Perhaps, I think, we will start with an acknowledgement of uneven ground in the first place. Perhaps we will recognize advent this year as a season to mourn with those who are mourning, and to stand in the gap for those who have resigned themselves to getting over their hurts. Knowing people changes things, and I think that the Kingdom breaks through in flashes of unity, of solidarity, of transcultural and radical shedding of self for the sake of someone else. I think that the God I serve cares deeply for the souls and the bodies of all his children. And that He would stand with them and among them, which of course, is exactly what He did when He came down from His throne and lay in a manger that long-ago night.
Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease

He sings Oh Holy Night and uses a megaphone. Because he is spreading the very words the world needs, in the very place they need it. Hope and joy and slaves who are brothers. The end of oppression, the dawning of peace. Beauty for ashes, new life after much pain in the birthing. And amazingly, it's for all of us, for the rag-tag group gathered on the broken pavement he has painted with brilliant strokes of color. Abandoned boarded up houses splashed with white and light, and a neighborhood deemed no-good, declared perfectly beautiful by the ones who have poured out their lives here.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name
I feel the ache deep in my bones and my skin prickles, and I sip gatorade in desperate attempts to stay hydrated. I toss and turn on my warm bed, and wonder how to find comfort and rest. And I think of the night we lay beneath the sky full of stars, and told Jayci that all that light remains, even when we cannot see it. High above us, cloaked in the city’s light and smog, is a sky full of stars, teeming with promises. So even on the days and in the moments I cannot see it, I rest in the hope that the light is still there. That Christ has come, and is coming. And that chains shall he break and peace shall he broker. Because the government will be on his shoulders, and He reigns with peace and justice. The kind that breaks through arguments and pushes aside statistics in favor of love and truth and actual people whom He loves deeply and desperately.
Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever,
His power and glory evermore proclaim.
His power and glory evermore proclaim.

4 comments:

  1. You are a beautiful soul.
    {please keep writing. i need your words.}

    ReplyDelete
  2. That song has been on repeat in my head all season - such good words there and (as always) such good words from you! Merry Christmas!

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  3. Gosh, your heart. I don't even have the right words to respond to this, but I want you to know that I read every word and will think on them for a good long while. Thankful for this space and for your thoughts. He uses them to speak to me!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I needed Isaiah (and the last chapters of Revelation) this Christmas season too. It was a mighty battle for hope, the kind that Paul said wouldn't disappoint.

    I'm still learning how to 'rest in the hope that the light is still there'. thank you for helping me to remember.

    ReplyDelete

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