Thursday, December 3, 2009

advent 1.5

On grandma's birthday I cut my hair. Standing on the bathroom mat, staring in the steam-fogged mirror into my own eyes, at my own face, looking for her there in its lines, I was filled with the urge to do something, and so I combed a fringe over my face and cut it. These bangs now hang in my face, and I am constantly pushing them aside. The hair tickles my nose. But they are the testament that I bear in my body. Things are not the same as they were.

I also baked a german chocolate cake that day, and Josh and I ate it that night. We lit one candle, but we couldn't sing. There was no way we could sing.

Death is part of the darkness we become more aware of during Advent, when the days grow increasingly short and the need for Help and Hope become more and more apparent. Death and love--these are our two human constants, our two mysteries, our two insistent concerns. Death and love color the pages of every novel I read, all the theories I study. And death and love are the basic themes of the story of redemption we cling to as Christians: love fulfilled, death overcome.

But in the now, in the dark evening, death doesn't feel so overcome to me. Just today, I spoke with a student who recently lost a very young family member, very unexpectedly. What words did we have to share? "I'm doing okay," he said, and shrugged. "Yeah," I said, "but it still sucks." "You're right, it sucks," he said.

I don't even usually say things "suck" -- but today I did, and it was the true word at that moment. Death and loss suck. Death and loss are awful. We can make all the arguments we want about how they're an integral part of the human experience, and it's true that some deaths are beautiful, longed for, the appropriate end to a long and full life. But even in those cases, the after-effects--the loss experienced by those who are still alive--are typically difficult. A human who was with us, a mysterious and never-fully-understood being who we loved and were loved by, a person who meant something and continues to mean something, is no longer dynamically involved in our lives. Death and loss are painful, and often they are bad. Admitting this helps us understand better the value of life, that life is good.

But death isn't something we talk about a great deal. Our literature may be infused with death--and the fear of it, and the experience of loss--but we are awkward around it. In the US, we are often removed from the dailiness of cycles of life and death; we are protected from its reality. This relates to our propensity to skip over the darkness of Advent in favor of the jingle and twinkle lights of Christmas. How do we mourn together? And how do we pause long enough to admit the depth of our need for a Savior's Coming?

Come, Light and Life, and guide our paths into the fullness of grace and hope. Help us to weep with those who weep, not to turn away from that which most reminds us of our frailty. Teach us to live within Your tale of life-in-death.

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