We can never really be sure what we’ll find waiting for us just around the bend in life, whether we’re looking ahead an hour or a year. Advent prepares us for the #unexpected, us to ground ourselves in Love and to wait in hope, trusting that Love will be with us come what may.⁣
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#adventword⁣ #unexpected
⁣Join an international community in prayer as we create a global online Advent calendar: see adventword.org

I don’t blame you if you can’t imagine what this is supposed to be a picture of. At first glance it may not look like much, but I see it as an image of love, loss, and grief.

It’s the stump of a holly bush that was cut down recently by the guys who rake our leaves and tidy up the property at the end of the season, a holly that sprouted at my childhood home, offspring of the huge holly tree that grew there for more than 50 years. My father, who loved that tree, died 10 years ago last June, my mother died five years ago this month, and the house was sold not long after that. Sometime during the years when all of this was drawing to a close, I dug up a seedling and brought it back to Pennsylvania, where it seemed to be thriving until the day it disappeared. I don’t know why they cut it down. They must have mistaken it for a weed, that’s all I can come up with.

And when I realized it was gone, I was nearly overcome by a mix of anger and grief.

I’m trying to let go of that anger because it’s just poison. It can’t bring back the holly, and there’d be no point to punishing the lawn crew. I don’t know what they were thinking, but I’m sure they had no idea what that thing they were hacking down actually meant to me. I could fan that hot anger into smoldering rage, but it would just burn me up from inside.

The grief, of course, is about something much larger than losing a prickly plant. It’s the bridge that joins all kinds of loss, beginning with the love that nurtured me in the beginning. It’s about the relentless letting go of things that have mattered in life, a necessity that comes more often and more insistently the older you get, as I’ve been learning lately. Best to let that grief go, too, but not right away.

I’ve been thinking about how much of this world’s pain is tied up with not knowing when to be angry, when to grieve, when to let anger and grief go, and when to share them with others.

Anger at injustice is an expression of righteousness. It can and should fuel the impulse to action. Righteous anger isn’t meant to be carried alone; it cries out to be shared.

And grief, too, is a heavy burden to carry alone. It’s easier when someone else bears it with you—not that it becomes lighter, necessarily. Grief can’t bring back the holly any more than it can bring back my old home or the people who spent their best years there, but something changes when your own deep mourning is affirmed by someone else.

So as I breathe deeply and pray to release my anger, I invite you into my grief. Let us lament, together, for all that we’ve lost. And then let it go.

I’ve been reading Howard Thurman’s “Jesus and the Disinherited” for the Sacred Ground discussion series I’m co-facilitating, and this stood out for me at the start:

The conventional Christian word is muffled, confused, and vague. Too often the price exacted by society for security and respectability is that the Christian movement in its formal expression must be on the side of the strong against the weak. This is a matter of tremendous significance, for it reveals to what extent a religion that was born of a people acquainted with persecution and suffering has become the cornerstone of a civilization and of nations whose very position in modern life has too often been secured by a ruthless use of power applied to weak and defenseless peoples.

Words first written in 1949. True for so many centuries before then, and never more true than today. The significant question we ought to be asking ourselves as Christians isn’t just about what Jesus would do, it’s where he would be. I for one find it hard to imagine him in a Border Patrol uniform.

Not long after I stopped to admire this scene, I opened the door to walk into a Target store and was nearly run down, literally, by a desperate-looking man fleeing the security guard. Hours later, I’m still seeing that expression on his face. Things we/I sometimes take for granted: the resources of time and money that make it possible to enjoy a cup of coffee with a friend on a brisk November morning, while others outside are struggling.

Sunrise. Feels like a miracle every time I see it happen. I don’t usually go for the overly obvious symbolism in my photography, but how could a beautiful sunrise like this one not suggest all of the little resurrections we experience in our day-to-day lives.

Intimations

Behind me in this picture, the meetinghouse where I was married 41 years ago as of October 28. It was a sunny day a week later in a different year and the trees were a brilliant mix of yellow, orange, and red. Across the road, the graveyard where I expect to be buried. Bookends of a sort. I had a coughing spell 20 minutes into meeting for worship and had to leave. Outside I took this photo and looked up Wordsworth’s “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood.”

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!

It lies about us still, I thought. Back inside after the coughing subsided, someone else stood to speak of immortality. Is there life after death, and what does it look like? Or do we just continue forward in a different sort of life? He said he liked to think of the trees around the meetinghouse when he thought about those questions.

Friends

Lots of ambivalent feelings on the way to school about whether it might not be better to turn around and go home. Then in the last block we met a friend, and they clasped hands and went through the gate without looking back, somewhat to the dismay of the adults who hoped at least for a wave goodbye and feared something more dramatic. We were all talking about the mercurial emotions of toddlers, but I wonder if we aren’t all that way. A kind word, an affectionate gesture – they make all the difference in the world. Nothing seems quite as hard when you know you’re not alone.