Saturday, December 14, 2013

Biding the Shadows of Advent

I am still running from that knowledge, that eye, that love from which there is no refuge.  For you meant only love, and love, and I felt only fear, and pain.  So once in Israel love came to us incarnate, stood in the doorway between two worlds, and we were all afraid.
                                                              - Annie Dillard in Teaching a Stone to Speak

My emotions rise as we settle into church and I excuse myself to get a cup of tea.  He catches me as the water pours, hot, into a thin paper cup.  The tea bag leeches black and one innocuous question is enough to break my thin veil of composure. 

I mumble something, voice breaking and the oceans that spring from my eyes speak their own words without words and this man doesn't turn away or try to cover over the awkwardness of the moment, but instead leans in. 

We stand talking in the middle of the refreshments, my friend and I, and it's not the words that matter, but the fact that he doesn't turn from my tears, doesn't deny the reality of the pain I feel over what should be such a simple thing.  When the service breaks, my husband joins us and the pain pours out yet again, welling up around us as we three tread water in its depths.

The prophet Isaiah describes the coming Christ as "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief" and the tiny babe born on a starry night grew into a man who drew the weak, weary and heavy-laden to himself, attracting those whose lives contained enough tears to wash his very feet.

It should be no wonder then, when in the midst of our waiting, we feel the dark corners of our own hidden grief beginning to come undone.  As we approach the light to come, our sense of the shadows both within and without, deepens.   

The only way I know to move through this pain is to look it in the eye, to drink the cup of sorrow and swallow it down whole or, as my friend would say, "to get down and roll around in the mud with it."  In his book, Let Your Life Speak, Parker Palmer says "the only way out is in and through," and here I am taking the dark and long road down and through these oceans depths of grief that are at once both old and new.

But it is here in the darkness, also, that voice of the angel comes, always - "Do not be afraid."

Do not be afraid.

Do not be afraid.

Here in deep shadows, spread wide like the velvety night sky, this is where the angel greets us who dare to tarry awhile, this is where the Christ child is born.

(For another reflection on the presence of grief during Advent, visit Laura Boggess' post at The High Calling  The Bread of Tears, "The season is bittersweet for some. Hearts are cognizant of empty places: loved ones departed, emotional estrangement, abandoned dreams, disappointments, and fears. Absence creates a presence that we carry with us as we rush to and fro during Advent. And we ask ourselves, how can a season of such joy also spark this kindred sorrow?")


  1. Gorgeous, Kelly. Thank you. I am co-leading a Blue Christmas service this evening - this post and Laura's fall right in line with the thinking behind our time together tonight. May you be blessed through your tears, friend.

    1. Thanks Diana. I've never attended a Blue Christmas service, but I think I'm going to need to find one before too much longer - just seems so right to incorporate the light AND the dark during this season of shortening days. Thanks for your words.

  2. Would it be all right if I printed part of this out for tonight, giving you and the blog full credit?

  3. Thanks so much, Kelly. I'll read the chunk from "The prophet Isaiah. . . " to the end and print it in the few copies I'm making for any who like to have hard copies to reflect on after the service. We're doing it like we do Taize - all the responses will be on the screens - gets heads up, is easier to read and encourages reflection in a darkened room.