Monday, December 19, 2011

A Strange Advent

Life feels so strange just now:
delicate and ponderous,
uncertain and pre-determined,
incomplete, uncomfortable, gaping open,
like a sweater that no longer fits.

She asks the same questions,
over and over and over again.
She worries over the cost,
she wonders what will become of her,
she sobs at her helplessness.

Everything is shifting,
the child becomes the parent,
the parent, a child.
Groping in the dark, she becomes
the fulfillment of the Carpenter's
long-ago warning:
"...when you were younger
you dressed yourself 
and went where you wanted,
but when you are old
you will stretch out your hands
and someone else will dress you
and lead you where 
you do not want to go." 

And I am the one in the lead.

I do not like it very much.
No, I do not like it at all.

Kyrie eleison.
Christe eleison.
Kyrie eleison.
The heavily pregnant Mary has been wandering the curving road to the House of Bread, Bethlehem. And she is almost there. We have been moving the candle each night that we've been home, moving it along the wooden spiral created by Caleb Voskamp at the tender age of 15. And we have been reading from Katharine Johnson's lovely Jesse tree devotional, using icons her 14-year-old daughter painted. And weaving in and around these lovely pieces of young art has been the sad story of my aged mother's move to assisted living, a move made necessary by blindness and memory loss.

And this is the cycle of life, isn't it? We all grow old, all of us who were once young. We grow old. And we die. Some of us die relatively quickly; some of us take a long time. But each journey is fraught with uncertainty, with fear, with loss and with difficult decisions. 

I think maybe the story we tell during each Advent season can bless us on this journey of aging. If we let it. The mother of Jesus was young, very young. And her world was turned upside down by events she neither planned nor expected. Scripture tells us that she said 'yes' to the unexpectedness of it all, that she said, "Let it be." "Let it be to me according to your word."

And Joseph did the same. He folded Mary in on the strength of a dream, he took on her shame, he took on her boy. He, too, said, "Let it be." 

And the two of them together, they took that curving road to the House of Bread. They found their way to an inhospitable and unwanted 'home' for the night. They spilled their tears and their blood on the ground of that dark cave so that Jesus, Emmanuel, might be birthed into our world. Together, they said, "Let it be."

And they did it without knowing what they were doing, as all of us who take on the task of parenting do. We do not see into the future, we cannot know the pain, or the joy, that will come with the years.

But we can say, and we can live, this truth: "Let it be." 

We can take it all, the love and the laughter, the anger and the tears; the hopes and dreams and the harsh realities and stern wake-up calls; the energy of youth and the exhaustion of old age; the promise of life and the sober questions about death - we can take it all firmly in hand, receiving each piece as gift, and we can say: "LET IT BE." 

According to your word. According to your word.

I write tonight with a mixture of both sadness and of gratitude. I am grateful for the family I was born into, for my father's passion for music and learning and family; for my mother's graciousness, hospitality, great good humor and sharp mind; for my brother Tom's keen wit, kindness, loyalty and tenderness; for my brother Ken's sweetness despite a lifetime of heartache. My father has been gone for almost seven years now; my brother Ken for two. My mom is moving closer to the end of life (aren't we all?) and Tom and I are each dealing with a plateful of challenges. As we left the mortuary after saying good-bye to Ken, Tom put his arm around my mother and me and said, "We're down to just three now, aren't we?" Yes, we are. And who knows when we will be just two. I pray daily for the grace to stand with Mary and Joseph, for the strength to remain steadfastly hopeful and thankful, even in the midst of loss and sorrow. Some days it's a struggle. Some days it's as easy as breathing. All days, I am grateful to God for each breath I am granted. And this day, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year. 

Adding this to the list at several places this week. Please check them all out and read a few here and there. Always richness to be found in these places:

 tuesdays unwrapped at cats