Gathering the Graces

Ah advent.  The season where I, in the same breath, sing “Let it be to me” and scream “it’s called a turn signal asshole!” during my morning commute.  I like to imagine God watching the scene and explaining to the angels “It’s a work in progress.”  When I first decided to do an advent series here on the blog I knew I would do an intro and I definitely wanted to talk about the wreath and the music.  That left one more week.  I remembered how at many retreats the facilitator will invite everyone to come together at the end of the day and share their takeaways or epiphanies.  They call it “gathering the graces.” 

Perfect!, I thought.  That will be my final post.  I can share all the insight I received this advent season.  After all I have a book to read and a plethora of advent devotionals, plus a couple extra church services and music filled with deeply meaningful texts-there should be plenty to gather.  Cut to the day before this post goes live and not a single word had been written.  Then I remembered I had written some things down in my notes app and I rediscovered this line from Anne Lamott’s Dusk Night Dawn.  “You’re carrying too much and you’re going too fast.” 

Now in the book this was something Anne’s son said to her as she tried to carry everything in one trip which we all know never goes well.  But for me, it captured much of my advent journey.  I was so eager to lean into the season, especially now that I’m in a more stable place grief-wise, that I was carrying too much and going too fast.  I had no time to reflect, no time to ponder, no time for my soul to sit in stillness.  So on the day before this blog goes live I was forced to look back and reflect, to think about what graces this advent season has given me. 

A fun focus of this advent season has been on the empowerment of women throughout the Christmas narrative.  From the lighthearted rewording of “Mary did you know?”, to “Mary freaking knew” or as Emmy Kegler said on the Cafeteria Christian Podcast, “Mary sure as shit knew, she sang a whole song about it.  Listen to what she said.” To the more hard hitting tweet by Kaitlyn Schiess “Every discussion of ‘biblical womanhood’ should include the fact that in Luke 1, two pregnant women celebrate their new motherhood by passionately discussing the coming overthrow of every earthly empire.”  Beautiful images of Joseph caring for baby Jesus while Mary reads a book, or, even better, takes a nap round out the feminist lens through which I was able to view this season. 

But the more humbling take away has been in how much I still don’t know. And I’m not just talking about the great mysteries of the faith, I’m talking how do I want to spend my Christmas vacation? I don’t know.  Each year my pastor shares an advent symbol, something for the congregation to reflect on as we move through advent.  This year she noticed how many people had to go somewhere for Christmas to happen.  Zacharias had to go to the temple, Mary had to go visit Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph had to go to Bethlehem, etc.  So this year’s advent symbol was a traffic light on green -a “go light” if you will. 

When the symbol was first revealed I thought, ‘hell yeah.”  I am a go person, this is a perfect symbol for me.  I displayed my go light on my side table (extra church points for me-number 1 congregant right here…) so I would see it often and be able to reflect.  But as the season progressed the only thought that bubbled up during my reflection was, “go where?”  Then came day 12 of Roy Goble’s Junkyard Devotional:

 “That first advent must have been filled with a lot of ‘I don’t know moments.  As I’ve said before, we know the story well, but at the first Advent I t had to be an incredible, incomprehensible mystery for Mary and Joseph.  Said aloud or not, there was so much they didn’t know that we take as obvious today.

At some point Joseph admits they are lost.  At some point Mary admits she doesn’t understand her conception.  Both admit they didn’t pack enough diapers.  The point is, the ‘I don’t know’ moments somehow transition from the breaking of our pride into a moment of healing.  Which, when you think about it, is what Advent is all about.” 

I am deeply uncomfortable with, “I don’t know.”  I don’t like unexplored and unanswered questions.  I like a roadmap and a clear way forward-I want to know where I am going.  But, like a mantra, I repeat the wisdom given to me by a 13-year-old at our confirmation retreat, “I don’t have to know all the answers, I just have to know God.”  While I would never claim to know all of God, I do know that God is love.  And my favorite grace I gathered, so far, this Advent season is a beautiful description of this love from Dusk Night Dawn.  “Trust me on this: We are loved out of all sense of proportion.  Yikes and hallelujah.  Love reveals the beauty of sketchy people like us to ourselves.  Love holds up the sacred mirror.  Love builds rickety greenhouses for our wilder seeds to grow…It makes us real…We are being shepherded beyond our fears and needs to becoming our actual selves.  This sucks and hurts some days, and I frequently do not want it or agree to it.  But it persists.”  Christmas is coming.  Love has dawned.  Yikes and hallelujah.

One thought on “Gathering the Graces

  1. I was a wrestler in both HS and college. 138 and 143 lbs class. My all time record in matches was 32-47-2. Meaning I spent more time on my back losing in pain, than having a hand raised in victory. But the lessons learned I have applied to life. For I have found losing, adversity, pain a far better teacher, than victory or ease. You can lose a match in three ways, shoulders pinned to the mat of course, by points, and also by “tapping out”. Where you are bent so far like a pretzel, or in such suffering you can no longer take it, and you “tap out”. The ref automatically stops the match. I tapped out 5 times in my career. I like to think of the tap out rule as an act of “grace”. Or in more theological terms, mercy, kindness, forgiveness, and end to pain, which is unmerited and undeserved. I just sucked at this sport and the pain needed to end. As i really had no business on the same mat with the 2 time PA state champion in my class. The ref just should have been allowed to allow my opponent continue to hand my ass to me for the full 9 minutes of my match.

    So many times we are the recipients of unmerited and unearned Grace. The UPS driver that drops our boxes out of the rain or knocks on the door to hand to us. The parent who has forgiven us a billion times, the lover we continued to hurt and disappoint, but loves us the same. The child whom we break a promise too, but will trust us again, and again, and again. A God,a Savior, knowing full well we are, and will remain unrepentant sinners, prideful, arrogant, stiff necked, stubborn and head strong to the end. But still became incarnate and Savior of Creation 2,000 or so years ago in some jerk water town along a back road of the Roman Empire. That type of Grace. Where we get into life matches we know are we way over our heads. Where we allow our pride, our bodies, our minds, to get us into places we cannot get out of. Where in front of 12,000 at the old U of Pitt field house in the 1975 WPIAL championships with my parents in the audience, you lose in 26 seconds in humiliation. Where I cried in the towel so no one could see me. Climb into a hole and never come out. Where post match my mother and father came up to me and hugged me, and told me how proud they were of me. That type of grace. and that is what Christmas is all about.


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