I am still running from that knowledge, that eye, that love from which there is no refuge. For you meant only love, and love, and I felt only fear, and pain. So once in Israel love came to us incarnate, stood in the doorway between two worlds, and we were all afraid.
– Annie Dillard in Teaching a Stone to Speak
My emotions rise as we settle into church and I excuse myself to get a cup of tea. He catches me as the water pours, hot, into a thin paper cup. The tea bag leeches black and one innocuous question is enough to break my thin veil of composure.
I mumble something, voice breaking and the oceans that spring from my eyes speak their own words without words and this man doesn’t turn away or try to cover over the awkwardness of the moment, but instead leans in.
We stand talking in the middle of the refreshments, my friend and I, and it’s not the words that matter, but the fact that he doesn’t turn from my tears, doesn’t deny the reality of the pain I feel over what should be such a simple thing. When the service breaks, my husband joins us and the pain pours out yet again, welling up around us as we three tread water in its depths.
The prophet Isaiah describes the coming Christ as “a man of sorrows
and acquainted with grief” and the tiny babe born on a starry night grew into a man who drew the weak, weary and heavy-laden to
himself, attracting those whose lives contained enough tears to wash his
It should be no wonder then, when in the midst of our waiting, we feel the dark corners of our own hidden grief beginning to come undone. As we approach the light to come, our sense of the shadows both within and without, deepens.
The only way I know to move through this pain is to look it in the eye,
to drink the cup of sorrow and swallow it down whole or, as my friend
would say, “to get down and roll around in the mud with it.” In his
book, Let Your Life Speak, Parker Palmer says “the only way out
is in and through,” and here I am taking the dark and long road down and
through these oceans depths of grief that are at once both old and new.
But it is here in the darkness, also, that voice of the angel comes, always – “Do not be afraid.”
Do not be afraid.
Do not be afraid.
Here in deep shadows, spread wide like the velvety night
sky, this is where the angel greets us who dare to tarry awhile, this is where the Christ child is born.
(For another reflection on the presence of grief during Advent, visit Laura Boggess’ post at The High Calling The Bread of Tears, “The season is bittersweet for some. Hearts are cognizant of empty
places: loved ones departed, emotional estrangement, abandoned dreams,
disappointments, and fears. Absence creates a presence that we carry
with us as we rush to and fro during Advent. And we ask ourselves, how
can a season of such joy also spark this kindred sorrow?”)