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Posts Tagged ‘longing’

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Last week, I went to see Wakanda Forever with my guy. I’m still a Marvel novice (he’s an avid, longtime fan), and I’d avoided spoilers, wanting to come in with fresh eyes. It was gorgeous and impressive: the fight scenes alone were visually amazing. But the plot – although I knew it began with grief – was way heavier than I expected.

There was a lot of death and vengeance, I said to a friend afterward, debriefing the movie (and my reaction to it) while trying not to give the plot away.

Nothing says Advent like death and vengeance! she joked. Taxes, Herod, etc. And though I laughed, her words kept coming back to me all week.

The Marvel universe is, of course, not explicitly Christian: it has dozens of deities, who often out-human the humans in their capricious plotting and scheming. But both narratives – Black Panther and Advent – are, on some level, about what happens when humans pursue power at the cost of oppressing others. There is chaos and darkness, and a lot of yearning for things to be made new, in both Wakanda’s world and ours.

The villains wear different faces, perhaps. Herod is a shadowy figure to most of us, though he was infamous in his day for cruelty and paranoia (and, of course, taxation). The villains in Wakanda Forever are the colonizers: white Europeans who, in that world and this, have seized land and resources for themselves, with little thought to the impacts on native peoples, or any claim those same peoples might have to the land they have inhabited for centuries.

I admit it is uncomfortable – and necessary – to watch movies where people who look like me are the antagonists. It also makes me think, every time, of what Galadriel says at the beginning of the Fellowship of the Ring film: she’s talking about the rings designed for the kings of men, “who, above all else, desire power.”

If power (often via control of valuable resources) is the goal, then governments and rulers will stop at nothing to secure it. Even for those who primarily want to protect their people and homeland, power can be a seductive – and blinding – distraction. Several of the characters in Wakanda Forever get sidetracked by its lure, nearly launching the entire world into a blistering full-scale war.

There is (isn’t there always?) another way, which is the message of Advent: the quiet, messy, upside-down approach of mercy, the confounding way that hope and scrappy underdogs often sneak in to save the day. There is a way, even among warring nations, to choose peace and justice over iron-fist control, even when that justice comes at a heavy price. In Wakanda Forever, we watch several characters grapple with this choice – even as the consequences of others’ choices bring heavy losses and deep pain.

Neither narrative wraps up neatly: the movie ends, of course, and Christmas does come, but neither erases the pain that came before it. Neither ending can entirely negate the realities of oppression and power-seeking, and the losses that cannot be recovered. Death and darkness are real, and sometimes they threaten to overwhelm the light.

And yet: we wouldn’t keep watching superhero movies, or observing Advent, if we didn’t believe the light would triumph somehow. We would turn away from these stories altogether if we didn’t believe – or hope – the light could break through.

We keep telling these stories, trying to make sense of our pain, trying to turn toward mercy and justice and new life, even when the grief is a heavy weight, even when the darkness covers the earth. We believe, somehow, that the light is coming, that redemption is possible, that death and darkness are not the end.

In this season of deep darkness and stubborn light, I’ll keep clinging to that belief – whether via the essays in my Advent book or, unexpectedly, on a journey to Wakanda.

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If they come in the night

Long ago on a night of danger and vigil
a friend said, why are you happy?
He explained (we lay together
on a cold hard floor) what prison
meant because he had done
time, and I talked of the death
of friends. Why are you happy
then, he asked, close to
angry.

I said, I like my life. If I
have to give it back, if they
take it from me, let me
not feel I wasted any, let me
not feel I forgot to love anyone
I meant to love, that I forgot
to give what I held in my hands,
that I forgot to do some little
piece of the work that wanted
to come through.

Sun and moonshine, starshine,
the muted light off the waters
of the bay at night, the white
light of the fog stealing in,
the first spears of morning
touching a face
I love. We all lose
everything. We lose
ourselves. We are lost.

Only what we manage to do
lasts, what love sculpts from us;
but what I count, my rubies, my
children, are those moments
wide open when I know clearly
who I am, who you are, what we
do, a marigold, an oakleaf, a meteor,
with all my senses hungry and filled
at once like a pitcher with light.

It has been a hard and heavy few weeks in the headlines, and this poem – found via Abby Rasminsky – made me think of Ukraine and also of my own life. I hope it moves you.

April is National Poetry Month, and I am sharing poetry – with an emphasis on women – here on Fridays this month, as I do every year. 

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I expected to be so ready for Advent this year.

After a full, demanding fall semester and a bruising election cycle, I thought I’d be eager to sink into my favorite liturgical season: the readings, the carols, the longing and candlelight and hope. But at church on the first Sunday of Advent (after our wonderful Turkeypalooza), I still felt hopeless and tired and sad, even as we sang “O Come O Come Emmanuel.”

That evening, sitting on the floor at my friend Amy’s house, I admitted how I felt. We were working on the backdrop for the church Christmas pageant: hot-gluing uneven blocks of dark green felt to a bolt of midnight blue fabric, scattering handfuls of sticky, glittery stars overhead. “I think I need to sit in the darkness a while longer,” Amy said, and I nodded. I didn’t feel ready to start lighting candles yet.

The next day, I walked across the Yard to Morning Prayers, where a divinity student gave a talk on tenderness. “Let us be raw a while longer,” she said gently, urging us to sit with our pain – and the world’s – rather than glossing over it. We also sang “O Come O Come Emmanuel,” and I hummed it as I walked to work afterward, the Civil Wars version in my earbuds.

It feels right for Advent to come slowly this year: we are working through more pain and darkness, on a national scale, than I can remember in a long time. The questions raised by my favorite Advent writers – Henri Nouwen, Kathleen Norris, Madeleine L’Engle, Alfred Delp – feel more pertinent than they ever have. I have been reluctant to skip over the ache to the joy, even as I’ve loved seeing twinkle lights and Christmas trees appear around Cambridge and in my friends’ homes.

Since I discovered it as a high school student, Advent has given me a way to wrestle with the questions of my faith: to look the darkness of this world steadily in the face, and to appreciate why we need the Light. I usually relish the ache of it, the haunting, lovely longing for Christ to come, for God to burst into the world and begin making all things new. But this year, everything already feels so dark. And I keep wondering: what good can our candles, anyone’s candles, possibly do?

Despite my weariness (and wariness), Advent keeps sneaking in, sidling up with quiet steps when I’m not quite paying attention. There is the Sylvia Plath poem whose inclusion in my favorite Advent book surprises and delights me every year. There are the annual Advent readings hosted by my friends Hannah and Chris, where we gather for poetry and hot cider and good talk in their cozy living room. There are the quiet carols (my favorite ones), which end up in my head almost by accident. And there are moments of connection with colleagues and friends, even in the midst of daily tasks and deeper sadness.

I am (finally) edging into the season: we put up our tree this weekend, and hung the greenery at church on Saturday. I am humming a few beloved carols, dipping into my Advent books, and watching for the light, whether literal (as above) or metaphorical, any place I can find it.

How are you finding the light – whether you’re observing Advent or not – in this season?

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Lighting our candles

candle red berries penguin

Light your candles quietly, such candles as you possess, wherever you are.

—Alfred Delp

I am lighting a lot of candles these days.

We are into the short days of December, and while several of them (so far) have blazed with sunshine and brilliant blue skies, it’s still nearly pitch dark by five o’clock. The twinkling lights of our two Christmas trees (one big, one tiny) are helping to combat the darkness of the long evenings, but even so I find myself reaching for the lighter on a regular basis, hearing the click-click and smiling as the flame springs into life.

charles river clouds boston

Last week, I took a lunchtime walk along the Charles River, which glinted gray and silver under a sky chased with fitful clouds. I stumbled onto a small monastery whose existence I had only learned about recently. I slipped into its tiny chapel, set with jewel-like stained-glass windows, and I lit a candle, one in a row of flickering tealights set in a wrought-iron rack.

I wanted to murmur a prayer for our world, which is hurting so badly in so many ways, and in the end I couldn’t. I had no words. I let that tiny flame, joined with its fellows in that small stone chapel, express my plea: Lord, have mercy.

“I simply get to work on ordinary things,” Sarah wrote in a blog post a few weeks ago. “This is all I know to do when I don’t know what to do.” I think about her words almost daily, as I go about my own ordinary work.

I make the bed every morning with my husband’s grandmother’s quilt. I wash last night’s dishes while the kettle is boiling for my first cup of tea. I sort and wash laundry, lug it downstairs to the basement, haul it back up when it’s dry, fold it and put it away. I make grocery lists, errand lists, to-do lists, and work through them, slowly.

I peel a clementine for an afternoon snack, buy Christmas gifts, answer emails. I drink chai and more chai from Darwin’s, scribbling a few lines in my journal if there’s time. I write – news stories, book reviews, social media posts – and edit and proofread till my eyes hurt.

I come home and I need to plunge my hands into a sink of soapy water, or a batch of scone dough or a tangle of yarn. Or I need to simply sit in front of our Christmas tree with yet another mug of tea or mulled cider. And a candle burning nearby.

There is a lot of joy in this ordinary work. And there is also – at times like this – a feeling of helplessness.

christmas tree living room

 

What can I do about the headlines, the scenes of terror and tragedy on every side, the constant shouting in the halls of power that drowns out the tears of those who mourn? Not much, honestly. I can’t change anything for the families who are grieving, for the refugees without a home, even for my friend whose baby has been sick or other friends who are walking through dark times. I’m not a doctor, or a magician. I can’t do much. But I can light a candle on my kitchen table while I scrub pots and pans and make a meal to nourish myself and my love.

We are deep into the season of Advent, and even if you are not Christian, or religious, the world seems to be waiting for something. We are aching for peace, for reconciliation, for an end to the violence and anger that threatens to overwhelm anyone who picks up a newspaper or turns on the TV. We are desperate for solutions to these seemingly intractable problems, and we yell at each other because we don’t know how to fix things, how to move forward in the wake of so much loss.

It seems a small thing, to make a pot of soup, or a cup of tea. To go to a friend’s house on a Tuesday night, share a meal, trade stories and laughter, and read aloud the words of Luke and Isaiah. To spend Saturday morning wrapping potted poinsettias in gold paper, hanging pine garlands around the doorways at church. To text a friend, to share something funny or joyous or exciting, or simply to say, I’m here.

It seems small. But it’s what I can do.

As we turn toward the solstice and the nights grow ever longer, as the headlines continue to shout reminders of how broken and raw the world is, as I deal with continuing struggles and uncertainty of my own, you can find me here. Reading the words of hope and expectation in my Advent book, listening to the carols that thrill me with their longing and joy, sitting in the silence and taking a deep breath.

And then going about my quiet, unglamorous, ordinary work. Lighting the candles I possess, while I wait for the Light of the world to come again.

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