Kelli Woodford is a kindred spirit. I was sure of that after reading only a few of her online writings, but it was confirmed when we met in person at the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College last spring.
Her beautiful words pop up all over the internet, but you can be sure to find her blogging regularly at Chronicles of Grace.
Just south of November, it begins to rain.
The air is heavy in my lungs and on my face. Like a vapor. Somewhere near the corner of the house I hear a persistent rustle which I first mistake for tears from heaven, dropping on bare branches. But further listening reveals that no, in fact, it’s an animal. Small, dependent. Probably a field mouse cloaked by the veil of darkness and mist.
From the deep recesses of memory, words bubble to the surface, and I smile:
… All creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all.
In the not-distant-enough, I hear a rising wail of wild coyotes. They are closer than usual on this damp eventide. First one, then two, then the whole pack is howling. This is what they do when they have caught the scent and the chase is on … A chill runs up my spine. The dear animal near my feet stops its chatter. I hurry indoors to the safety of drywall and the hum of dishwashers. My little friend has no such dwelling. He takes his chances in the night.
I pray elemental prayers for the creature who is the source of the coyote’s call, whoever he may be. My imagination gets the best of me and I feel a familiar ache. For there are so many of them, these vicious undomesticated dogs, who threaten whatever is peaceful and simple and wholesome. Who tear to pieces the wandering defenseless.
As the door clicks shut, heavy against my hand, I close my eyes. My resident cynic can’t help but ask if the Lord God didn’t make them all, too. The hunters and the hunted …? What a world, this is. What a place for those who choose the innocence of yielding over the power of the mighty. What chance do they have in the recesses of the engulfing night?
And maybe because it’s Advent, or maybe because of my own baby who sleeps safe in his crib, I begin to think of another gentle Lamb. I begin to imagine what kind of risk wears swaddling clothes and lies in the manger. Among wolves. I feel the innocence of the moment teetering on the verge of disaster, so very near the lion’s mouth.
Because this time of year it’s easy to sentimentalize The Story. To skip right over the rough edges and the what-might-have-been’s. To jump to the ending we know so well. But on nights like this, I’ve a hunch that we do a disservice to The Story when we domesticate it.
Weren’t they treacherous times for God Himself to be born? Wasn’t there a pack of wild dogs slinking in the shadows that holiest of Silent Nights? Didn’t that round yon virgin tremble at the precarious nature of such a plan … ?
Oh, may our pine-scented nostalgia never strip us of this perspective. May all things merry and bright never blind us from the darkness that yet lurks.
For the reality is that it’s not an easy story to tell when you feel the thick air in your lungs and hear the silencing triumph of darkness. Like any good story there is conflict and there is climax. And the Hero comes not in absence of darkness, but in spite of it. Because of it. He comes to shine on those living in a land under the shadow of death. He comes to show us that the Lamb has the heart of a Lion. That love is stronger than hate. That what beats in the chest matters more than what weapon is in the hand.
Darkness and cruelty and the gnashing of teeth are part of the story and we should never shortchange their presence. Their part should be told. For a time they may even claim victory over a battle or two, but –
they never win the war.
Somewhere south of November, I sense an awakening. A stirring as faint as a desperate field mouse nibbling his last tasty morsel. The Light comes anyway. Not because it’s safe. Not because the stable’s antiseptic or the virgin stoic in her certainty. This is the scandal of it all, isn’t it? He comes into the midst of our mixture: our love and our hate, our fear and our confidence, our peace and our war, our already and our not-yet.
He comes gently.
And here in the manger with hay in their hair and the scent of manure in their nostrils, the little family trembles. Because they hear the cry of the lone wolf and feel the chill in north wind and wonder at the unsure footsteps that pound the earth outside the tavern. But the smile that starts in the tired eyes of those two scared kids with a baby between them reaches quietly inside to somehow comfort their deepest fears, like whispered words:
Light does more than come. It overcomes.
Kelli Woodford: I live in the midwest, surrounded by cornfields and love, with my husband and seven blue-eyed children. We laugh, we play, we fight, we mend; but we don’t do anything that even slightly resembles quiet. Unless it’s listening to our lives, which has proved to be the biggest challenge of them all.