It is fitting that I was the only man who showed up. In our little group were 3 women–2 of them mothers–who spoke the language of the grieving mother in ways I couldn’t. We didn’t speak any magic spell or promise to take away the pain. We simply stood with my neighbors and said, “I see you. I see your pain. I won’t give in to the temptation to look away.” The Moment of Blessing we performed at my neighbor’s home won’t take the pain away from the grieving mom, dad, brothers, and girlfriend. Dillon is gone. Murdered in his parent’s driveway on Halloween. None of what we did that morning will take away the pain, but it communicates that we are here–and so is God.
It’s Advent again, and that is the simplest message of the season, isn’t it? God is here. God is with us. Jesus, according to my belief system, is God incarnated among us. God took on the flesh of His/Her Creation and entered deeply into the human experience.
The invitation of Advent is not to somehow transcend the humanity in the Gospel story in an effort to connect with the divine. Instead, the invitation is to deeply embrace the reality of our unique part of the human experience–and realize that this is exactly where we will encounter the divine!
The Advent story begins with Mary becoming pregnant and visiting her cousin, Elizabeth, who is also expecting a child after a supernatural encounter.
Maybe it’s because my wife has worked as a Birth Doula for the past few years, but I believe there is no better lens through which to read this story than through the lens of motherhood. Last year I shared an advent blog called, “The Mourning Mother’s Advent“. I was openly processing the strong connections I felt between the story of Advent, my wife’s pregnancy, and the many young men tragically killed during police encounters. I saw images of grieving mothers and I couldn’t help but think of Mary and Elizabeth, both of whom (unless Elizabeth died before John) had to endure every mother’s worst nightmare–the violent death of her child.
The connection between Advent and motherhood is strong. So I want to offer 2 prayerful movements that I plan to practice during this first week of Advent. They are born from an attempt to view this story through the lens of motherhood and they are meant to be held in tension with each other. I invite you to join me if you don’t already have an Advent practice.
Movement 1: Joy, Anticipation, Excitement, Celebration
There is something profound in Mary’s realization that she will be participating in God’s transformation of the world as she knew it. This was incredibly unique to her, but the experience of pregnancy and the miracle of life growing within her is a shared experience by mothers across our world. Like Mary, a pregnant woman is acting as a vessel through which God’s Image will be born into the world. It is a sacred invitation to participate in the ongoing act of Creation.
In this movement I seek to allow myself to be fully incarnated into the blessed human experience of Birth. May I celebrate and wait with joyful anticipation alongside those in my life who are expecting a child, as well as celebrate my own children and the miracle of their births. I also pray for boldness to accept the invitation to participate in the ongoing act of Creating beauty, love, and peace through my work, family, and friendships.
*Feel free to adapt this movement to your experience. It is not meant to be for parents only. Play with what it looks like to participate in the ongoing act of Creation in your life.
Movement 2: Grief, Mourning, Lament
The shadow side of the Advent story is seen when you look ahead in the Gospel accounts, and it is a true reality of the human experience.
Mary, more than 30 years after experiencing the miracle of giving birth to her beloved son, is forced to endure the pain of watching Him be murdered before a blood thirsty crowd of “her people”.
Elizabeth, if she was still alive, would have to endure the pain of hearing of her son’s gruesome murder while imprisoned by Herod.
2 mothers. 2 murdered sons. As tempting as it is to see Advent as a light hearted celebration filled with laughter and joy, it must be held in tension with what we know to come later in the story. This is the reality of the human experience. It is not all joy. It is not all sorrow. It is a generous mix of both.
In this movement I seek to allow myself to be fully incarnated into the all too true human experience of loss. May I resist the temptation to look away when faced with the grief of my neighbor.
Your list will likely look different than mine, but I intentionally remember the loss of these children of God and I acknowledge the mourning of their mothers and other loved ones.
Diana kasl, Garrett Swasey, Ke’Arre M. Stewart, The other victims of the Planned Parenthood attack, Michael Lee Marshall, Dillon Bueno, Jessie Hernandez, Tamir Rice, Mike Brown, Laquan McDonald, The other victims of a broken system, Rev. Clementa Pickney, Tywanza Sanders, Cynthia Hurd, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lance, Rev. Daniel Simmons, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Susie Jackson, The other victims of violent racism, The victims of the violence in Paris, Kenya, Syria, and all the other beautiful people whose lost lives have been tragically under-reported, Those killed every year through the violence of war, all who have died–known to me and unknown.
May you feel the invitation this Advent to dive deeply into your unique part of the human experience–filled with both tremendous Joy and heart wrenching Sorrow–and may you realize that it is in those experiences that you encounter the One whose birth we most celebrate during this season. Amen.