Keep Watch with Me: Advent 1

This is the third offering from “Keep Watch With Me: An Advent Reader for Peacemakers” written by the #seminarymama. Sign up for this free daily resource here.

Psalm 80:1-7
Shepherd of Israel, listen!
You, the one who leads Joseph as if he were a sheep.
You, who are enthroned upon the winged heavenly creatures.
Show yourself before Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh!
Wake up your power!
Come to save us!
Restore us, God!
Make your face shine so that we can be saved!
Lord God of heavenly forces,
how long will you fume against your people’s prayer?
You’ve fed them bread made of tears;
you’ve given them tears to drink three times over!
You’ve put us at odds with our neighbors;
our enemies make fun of us.
Restore us, God of heavenly forces!
Make your face shine so that we can be saved!

Aside from writing and ministry, I’m actively engaged in the non-professional peacemaking of raising a toddler with my partner. Our child has unbounded curiosity and unbounded feelings. Massive dramas of disappointment, frustration, failure, and grief play out each day, and I must practice presence and compassion. Sitting with those big toddler feelings has been shown to better develop resilience, empathy, peace and calm in children over the long haul.

Practicing this with my child takes time, slows me down, and reminds me to practice it with myself. I feel disappointment, frustration, failure, and grief: with national politics and inequitable development, the church’s anxious idolatry of institution, with my own inner struggles as the days shorten and demands of seminary, work, and parenthood feel endless, with the 24 hour news cycle of suffering.

Today’s psalm is the prayer of a suffering people, who look at their lives and see only God’s absence. “How long will you be angry? Restore us!” They are abandoned, shamed, alone, hopeless. They are carrying more than anyone can bear.

But we know that the prayer of a moment, a song of emotion, is rarely the whole picture.

Year after year, we go through the season of Advent before Christmas, a liturgical season of penitence and preparation to celebrate that God always intervenes. We sit with the already and not-yet of Jesus come and coming, and we read lamentations and prophecies of judgment with knowledge of coming peace. For Christians, silence, waiting, and death are not the end of the story, but we must sit with them nonetheless.

Our sorrows are here and now. Our worries are life and death for ourselves and for the people we love. They need holy attention. And they are not the whole picture.

This Advent, we keep watch together so that we might grow a gritty, holy hope. We encourage one another to active peace building. We are choosing to do the hard inner work of being still, grieving, hoping, noticing, and becoming a little more peaceful within, so that as the apostle writes, we would be strengthened and faithful, in fellowship with Christ’s work of peace incarnate.

The child, the child, sleeping in the night…

Last advent, I was a few months pregnant and consistently a weepy mess about anticipating birth and the fine line (if there is a line at all) between the immanent and transcendent.

This year, the wonder of my sweet babe at Christmastime has been undercut by the anguish of teething, final exams and papers, and one head cold after another cycling around the family. Between shopping for gifts, work gatherings, and our diocesan clergy conference, the spirit of Advent has been elusive, hiding behind the irritation and mundane.

Then this past Sunday, S. got to be the baby Jesus for the St. Augustine’s Christmas pageant. He was the fattest snaggle tooth Christ child you ever did see. I wept with pride and I will hunt down every single picture that was snapped of the precious scene. Poor pastor’s kid.

IMG_4783.JPGBut the real magic of it all happened on Saturday, when we headed over to pageant rehearsal. We were running late, and when we got to the chapel, the full nativity scene was on display, sans costumes, and the narrators were running lines from the lecterns. As we walked down the center aisle, one of the directors said, “Look everybody, baby Jesus is here!” And all those kids stopped and turned with audible “Oooooh”s and a few “Hooray”s. Mary and Joseph held out their arms for him and marveled over his toes, his fuzzy head, his Santa jammies. After the run through, there was a short line of 9 or 10 year olds who wanted turns holding him. The smaller kids wanted to see and touch him too, with the parental admonishments of “Gentle!” or “Just one finger!” “Don’t touch his face!”

In childhood, there’s a beautiful blurring of factual and mythical. The different kinds of true and real that we more efficiently categorize as adults are somehow spun together without contradiction. Suddenly S. is not just Miss Claire’s baby that we see every week (although, of course, he is). He is the baby Jesus (although, of course, he isn’t). And this incarnation stops them in their tracks, trumping the glamour of the King Herod costume and the hilarity of the three-person camel suit.

The complete awe and focused attention of a stage full of children snapped me back to attention. Not attention to my own child, really, but to the icon of Christ he can be. S. points to all the complicated mess of incarnation in all the sweetness and frustration of babyhood. Jesus arrives in ice storms and head colds, with diaper rash and reflux and sore gums, calling our attention to the presence of God in the inconvenient. 

Snakes and Babies


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When I come to the readings for the second week of Advent, familiar as they are from year to year, I am reading them with fresh horror and inspiration as a new mom. Prophesying the Kin-dom of God, Isaiah writes, “The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.”

Whoa, now! Not on my watch! My nursing child is almost always at my side, and when my five month old is with his other parent, beloved grandparents, or a carefully vetted babysitter, part of my mind is trained on him, often preoccupied by neurotic nightmares of all possible harm that might befall him. Stepping into parenthood as a young adult is no cakewalk. I have a million anxieties and insecurities of whether I’m a good enough mother. I worry for his well being.

But after sitting with my gut level reaction to these verses, allowing myself to lean into that horrified response, aversion is transformed to hope.

What would it be like to let my rolypoly baby play outside in Tennessee woods with full confidence that no harm would come? I tick through my mental safety list of reminders and checks, and think, “What if this was a world where I could let those go?” “What would it be like to parent without worry of these dangers?” 

What a beautiful motherhood that could be!

Even beyond the physical dangers of being human, these are frightening times to have a child. I fear for my son in a world with so much uncertainty and hatred, the spiritual violences that sting the unsuspecting innocent. I worry about the daunting task of trying to raise a good white man in a society that would have him believe he can run roughshod over women and people of color. But my hope in this Advent week is deepened when I read on to Matthew’s gospel, in which John the Baptizer is preaching repentance in the desert. “You brood of vipers!” he exclaims to the Pharisees, whose closed hearts and anxious spirits led to spiritual legalism and wielding power over others.

The brood of vipers—ah, much scarier serpents. These are the ones who poison with a fear twisted into anger, bite with anxiety the hand that offers peace. But what if this Kin-dom of God is also a world where I might release fear of these social, spiritual snakes? What would it be like to parent without worry of the powers and principalities, in confidence that hope and love protect the hands and hearts of babes?

What a beautiful motherhood that could be!

Yes, says the prophet, the earth will be full of the knowledge of God, and God’s dwelling shall be glorious. What a vision of peace and play! We work toward this Kin-dom of courageous love and community that overwhelms the anxieties of alienation and temptations to power. We await the coming of our humble peacewager.

Valor II: ylang ylang, coriander, bergamot, spruce, frankincense…