The word for this third week of Advent is Rejoice. It is a word associated most closely with Mary.
Here is a prayer for this, the third Sunday of Advent.
“Pour your grace into our hearts, O Lord, that we who have known the incarnation of your Son Jesus Christ, announced by an angel to the Virgin Mary, may by his cross and passion be brought to the glory of his resurrection; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Here is one thing I know: the world will keep on falling apart.
Sometimes it’s terrible, and you think you can’t go on. Bombs explode and guns are aimed at children, and the unimagined thing becomes our new reality.
Sometimes it’s a pebble in your shoe, a child apparently born without an indoor voice, and the discovery that you can, in fact, ruin brown rice even when you make it with an automatic rice cooker.
Sometimes it’s a Friday night thunderstorm that sounds terrible but lasts only fifteen minutes. You wake the next morning to blue skies and sunshine and the sight of a once-beautiful and massive maple tree lying stricken across your lawn.
The gloomy face of your chain-saw wielding husband annoys you. The tears of your firstborn both sadden and exasperate.
You move swiftly to combat both gloom and grief.
The tree was already at the end of its life! It was only a matter of time! It’s the circle of life! Nothing to cry about!
But you are wrong.
It is worth the gloom. It is even worth the grief.
The young girl is right, and you consider that even flowers were not created to fade. Life was never intended for death.
If we numb ourselves to the loss of one great tree, do we lose our capacity to grieve the harsher pain? The less explainable calamities?
Can our optimism become a kind of blindness? A refusal to see and acknowledge that all is not as it should be?
You are grateful your Saturday story does not end here. You consider that pain rarely seems to signal The End. In your (admittedly) limited experience, there is always something more.
Joy does come in the morning.
On this morning it appears in the form of a half-dozen teenagers. Needing to earn money for summer camp, you had agreed weeks ago (and quickly second-guessed your agreement) to give them odd jobs. You’d spent too much of the previous week worrying about the tall ladders involved in window washing and the poison ivy involved in brush clearing.
But here they are, and there, you have only just discovered, is the tree, and for that entire Saturday morning and the next Sunday afternoon, they will haul and carry and load. They will be your very own, unasked-for, tree-clearing work team, and your children will only occasionally slow their progress by treating the log pile like a jungle gym.
This is a familiar story (though I’ve never told it before). I’m sure you have your own version. It’s a story about how one song comes to represent something big: young love, say, or new parenthood, or that one particular summer when the weather just couldn’t be believed.
It actually was summer, and, yes, the weather couldn’t be believed. The coolest Chicago summer in a decade. I’ve never liked hot weather, but I was heavily pregnant and extra grateful for lake breezes.
I’d emerged from the long, dark tunnel of infertility. I’d survived the euphoria and illness of the first trimester. I was cocooned in the mellow hormones of the third trimester.
I’m sure it wasn’t all mellow dreaminess, but that’s how I remember it. The worst was behind. The earthquake that is a first baby was still to come. My husband and I took long walks. Went for long drives. Ate out in all our favorite restaurants.
That summer we could hardly turn on the car radio without hearing the song “Yellow” by Coldplay. Perhaps it only happened once, but when I think of that summer this is what I remember: a nighttime drive down the length of Chicago’s lakefront, overhead the city lights like glittery stars, windows rolled down, a baby girl filling me up, and “Yellow” playing on the radio.
That song and my firstborn: they’ve been tangled up in my mind ever since.
Which is a good thing.
Now when I hear that song, I’m taken right back to a place and a feeling it’s important never to forget. I hear the song, and I remember all of the joy and love and hope that a mother feels when her baby is tucked up inside, still unknown.
It can be difficult (often impossible) to hold on to those feelings through sleepless nights, temper tantrums, sibling fights, meltdowns over homework … well, all the ordinary awfulness of day to day life.
And my own mother-failures are the most awful of all.
But the ordinary awfulness is a distraction. It’s not the real thing. It doesn’t tell us who we really are. It tries to obscure the truth of who our child is.
More and more, I’m convinced that good parenting is learning to coast through the awfulness without losing my grip on the truth.
And the truth is this: life is magical, motherhood is an indescribably good gift, and my child (yours too) is more precious and beautiful than even the nighttime sky.
That is the truth, and this song helps me remember.
Just in time for Mother’s Day: a gorgeous cover of “Yellow” by Renee and Jeremy:
It’s Holy Week. It’s also – in our house – Spring Break.
Which means there are fewer quiet prayers and meditations, more picnics at the park and kids screaming in the car. In other words, the holy is not hard to find. It’s in my face, and it’s ringing in my ears (quite literally).
My Bible has stayed mostly closed, and I’m not sure if Friday’s Tenebrae service is appropriate for my eight-year-old, but this may all be for the best.
There has been time, after all, to cross one item off of my most important to-do list.
Flowers for the Doll Family.
(the dollhouse dining room prepared for Easter brunch)
I’ve been so sick for so long that looking back over the past few months is like staring into a dark tunnel. I’m just glad to be at the other end.
I’m a little too worn out to fully analyze the experience. Maybe some things are meant to be endured and survived rather than understood.
Still, I do know that there is a metaphysical, spiritual conundrum that we never quite escape in this life. C. S. Lewis called it the “problem of pain.”
Why do we get sick? Why do we hurt? And, hey, if we’re going to ask these questions why not go all the way … why do our babies get sick? Why do so many children suffer?
Of course, I don’t know how to answer those big questions. Does anyone? Lewis himself offers a bounty of wisdom, but it isn’t as if even he lets us off the hook. We won’t find the ultimate answer in a book. I believe we’ll find it one day in a face. Jesus’s face. But, I haven’t yet looked into those eyes, so, for now, it’s all hope.
Even if we can’t fully answer the “problem of pain” on this side of life, I don’t think we’ll ever get close if we ignore the little problems. The everyday pain.
When Jesus said to pick up our crosses and follow him, I don’t think he was telling us to suffer in silence. To just shut up about it already! Though, I admit, I sometimes picture him rolling his eyes in response to my whiny prayers. But, in my mind, it’s a fond exasperation.
That picture – of someone picking up their cross and following – is kind of nice, actually. As if Jesus were telling us that even our pain is a part of the story. Even our pain matters in some way. Pick it up, bring it along, I’ll take care of it, he says. Maybe today, definitely someday, it will be dealt with.
I won’t forget the tears you’ve cried.
So, what do we do in the meantime?
I’m not sure, but for the first time in months, I’m taking a good look around.
By the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel I can see blue skies. I can feel a warm breeze. And the scent blowing across my face is the heavy sweetness of backyard orange blossoms.
Here is another moment that begs not to be analyzed. It’s meant only for joy.