In my nearly 25 years (that I can remember), rarely has a year felt like it’s come with so much baggage. And, quite honestly, you probably don’t need another post reflecting on the year we are soon to leave behind filling up your news feed. I for one feel like I’ve read and listened to my share of words lately. In my general state of numbness, I’ve been constantly consuming news and blogs and sermons and Tweets and Facebook posts hoping to make some sense of the world through the emotions, perspectives, and words of others. And, in the process, I’ve been absorbing the anger, the sadness, and the grief, layer upon layer until I feel like I can hardly stand under the weight of it all. I’ve sought to hold and care for my own emotions while desperately trying to create space to hold the anger and frustration and grief of my sisters and brothers, especially those who have so much more to fear than I. In my clumsy attempts to listen and to act, I feel like I’ve finally begun to understand what it means to have my own liberation bound up with the liberation of my brothers and sisters, and, to put it rather ineloquently, it hurts. We, as the Body of Christ are so deeply broken. We have been broken over and over and over again, and even my eternally optimistic self is struggling to envision the possibility of wholeness.
2016 has been devastating for many of us.
And, at the same time, 2016 was devastatingly ordinary. Sometimes, 2016 looked like laughter-filled nights complimented by my favorite milk stout at happy hour or life-giving coffee dates with the people I love. At times, it even looked like traipsing down the cobblestone streets of the old city of Jerusalem and listening to a loon’s morning greeting as the fog rose off a Boundary Waters lake and the loving, Colorado sunshine-y embrace of a city I once called home. Sometimes the ordinariness of 2016 looked like the perfect sunset over Lake Como or that postcard-like view of the Minneapolis skyline from I-35. Sometimes it sounded like my carefree ukulele strumming or the uncontrollable giggles that have a habit of interrupting late night study sessions. Sometimes it smelled like my favorite banana bread recipe or that unmistakable crispness announcing the arrival of fall. Sometimes 2016 tasted like that much-anticipated first sip of coffee before the sun rises or a bottle of red wine shared with dear friends. Sometimes it felt like slipping into my favorite hooded sweatshirt after a long day or my well-worn Chacos that know the shape of my feet so well.
Just as often though, 2016 looked like late nights in the library frantically writing papers. It looked like my zombie-like stumble to the coffee maker early in the morning before I rushed off to my 8am class. 2016 looked like Wednesday nights at youth group after which I wondered if I was really making any sort of difference at all. It looked like boldly changing my graduate degree and then changing it back again and then just ending up so confused and exhausted that I kind of ignored the whole situation for a while. It looked like the impatient tap of my fingers against the steering wheel as I mumbled under my breath about how “traffic jams like this don’t happen in South Dakota.” It looked like painfully ordinary acts like washing dishes and organizing my closet and scraping off my car on cold winter mornings and looking for that pesky other shoe. It looked like clumsy attempts at vulnerability and stubborn tears that refused to be held back. It looked like the usual culprits of social anxiety and perfectionism that continually seem to drive me to my breaking point. It looked like flat tires and wisdom teeth and weird nightmares about my high school sports days. And 2016 looked it looked like way too many hours spent on social media comparing the ordinariness of my life to the perfected social media version of the lives of my friends.
- You taught me a whole lot, but I can’t say I’ll be sorry to see you go.
All too often, in the midst of the year’s seemingly never ending stream of bad news and in the increasingly impossible-to-ignore realities of racism and sexism and homophobia and islamophobia and nationalism and every other form of systemic sin that erases our own humanity as well as the humanity of our neighbors, it has felt nearly impossible to hold on to hope. The Gospel message sounds great and all, but my so many of my experiences these days tell me that hate has won. Love feels distant and elusive and far too often like it has nothing to do with our shattered reality. Even the ordinariness at times has felt oppressive.
But, as the musical prophet, the late Leonard Cohen reminds us, “Love is not a victory march. It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah.”
A cold and broken Hallelujah. A defiant Hallelujah that will not be silenced, even under the most hopelessly oppressive or devastatingly ordinary circumstances. A Hallelujah that just might show up in the most unexpected of times and the unexpected of places, calling us back to a new reality in which the only force with any type of defining power is not hate or scarcity or fear after all, but Love. A Love that looks a lot less like our preconceived notions of power and victory and instead looks a lot more like a cold and broken, even desperate, proclamation of hope in an otherwise bleak-looking world.
After all, it is only this type of Hallelujah that can take shape as a baby’s cry in an otherwise silent night in first-century Palestine.
Emmanuel. God with us.
May my broken spirit join yours this Advent, as together we muster our own cold and