O Come, O Come Emmanuel…

The leaves are long gone. There is no snow yet; today was thick with fog and a cold steady drizzle. It is dark early this time of year; the sun slips behind the trees and houses on the shoulder of the hill around half past three in the afternoon, and it is quite dark by 4:30.

On the Christian liturgical calendar we have entered the season of Advent, of waiting in the dark for the birth of Jesus, for the incarnation of light in the world of humankind. Those of us who deepen in the Pagan traditions like to note the similarity of this story to those around our winter solstice observances: the return of the Sun from deepening darkness, the return of light and the promise of spring and summer yet to come. These are deep, old stories with a universal component, even when their particular details don’t match exactly. They are stories of hope, of expectation, of waiting in the unknown and the uncertain.

And so for the last several hours I have been looking out the window into the dark and fog, the air thick with the news of yet another mass shooting. I’m starting to lose count. They come so fast now, the news reports of massive acts of violence, one after another after another. Today it was California – fourteen dead, as many injured, and the incident still unfolding as I write. A few days ago it was a medical clinic in Colorado, three dead and nine wounded. A few days before that, white supremacists shot at demonstrators gathered in protest of police brutality in Minneapolis – no one killed, thank God, but people two and three degrees removed from me were direct witnesses. The week before that, I don’t know, was that the terrorist attack in Paris? or Beirut? Or both? Were the mass demonstrations somewhere in Europe, or here in America? Or somewhere else? Or all of these?

There is so much fear in the world now, so much anger, so much pain. And humans – neither animal nor angel – when we hurt, when we fear, we do bare our claws and lash out at whatever approaches too closely, even when that is one another. I have done this. And if you are reading, probably you have too.

I wrote about this three years ago, after the Newtown school shooting, the winter before I began seminary. Nothing’s changed. Or maybe everything’s changed, intensified, deepened, become more of the same in a more saturated hue until the violence is so incandescent it burns itself into our souls and leaves a mark. And then when we think it’s over we turn on the radio or the television or the internet and it happens again.

I’m so tired. I try to keep my public language clean and professional but y’all, I’m tired, and seriously? Fuck this shit.

And then I think, okay then. This is what it looks like: the world that we inherit. It is broken. This is not sustainable. It is also not a quick-fix sort of problem but rather the thick tangled thorny kind that has no simple answer – yes, there are a thousand partial answers and gun control is one of them, but it seems to me that even the most egregious mass shooting is only the edge of the shadow, a symptom of a deeper cultural wound festering unexamined.

I honestly, right now, do not care very much what the proximate cause was this time, whether it was political or personal. The compulsion to violence is itself a symptom of deep pain and that is the larger issue that will persist even if – and I hate that I have to write “if” instead of “when” – we get some sensible gun-control legislation at the national level.

And I’m so tired, shoulders heavy, glass empty, looking in the face of the unresolvable dissonance of the human condition and I have no words for the mixed sense of wonder and frustration and weary resolve that says, “Yes. Even this. Go forward and love this holy, broken world. Yes, you. Even though you, personally, cannot fix it – go anyway. It is not yours to ignore.”

It is the Christian season of Advent, and the darkening end of the dark quarter of the year. We wait, uncertain, in the darkness. The old stories tell us that something different is coming – that the holy light of the world will return, soon, small and frail and tender; that it is ours to nurture and to protect until it is strong enough to sustain us. The modern stories tell us that we do not wait for the incarnation of the holy; we must become it: these hands, our hands, the hands of God in this world. It is ours to mend, and none other. Pray, yes, and weep as we must… rest for a moment, then pick up and keep going.

I’m so tired of the violence, y’all. Fuck this shit.


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