by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM December 15, 2018
Sometimes we may find ourselves drawn to a word, a phrase, an image, a sound, an energy, without fully understanding its power to attract. We simply know in a profoundly intuitive, almost primal way, that there’s something of substance or beauty or meaning that’s beckoning us to mine the attraction further.
“In the fullness of time,” (Galatians 4:4), a phrase that we often hear during the Advent and Christmas seasons, might be one of those that grabs our soul even if we can’t fully articulate why. I suspect it may have something to do with our own experience of finitude, of inhabiting our human condition with its limitations and constraints, its reality of never being quite finished. How astonishing that the Holy One in Jesus chose to embrace these very limits in coming to live among us! No surprise, then, that when we hear the words, “in the fullness of time,” we sit up and pay attention, we hear a language that speaks to our longing to be made whole, a recurring theme of our hopeful waiting in these Advent days.
Recently the day’s news highlighted one of many tragic stories of loss: a woman who had been vacationing in Costa Rica missed her flight home and was later found murdered. The media coverage descended on her heartbroken father, who was asked a question no one is capable of answering in the vortex of overwhelming loss: “How are you?” He choked on his grief. He wept, wailed, struggled to find words to wrap around the unimaginable. And then this father, who had abruptly lost his cherished daughter to violence, simply put words around how he was in that moment. He cried out, “I am incomplete! We are incomplete!”
Ah, that’s it exactly, I thought. This father named so well our deep longing to be whole. Our individual sigh, our collective wound. Our knowing when something is missing, interrupted, forever lost or disappeared. Our resonance with the elevator scene in Jerry Maguire where a deaf woman signs to her beloved, “You complete me.”
I have read that, in Italian, there are no words that actually say, “I miss you.” Instead, the phrase, “mi manchi,” more precisely translates one’s heartache as “You are missing from me.” In many ways, that is our shared wound, our incompleteness.
This unfinishedness is a central core of the Advent readings where we hear about the good work begun in us that will continue to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11), about mountains being leveled, depths and gorges being filled up, winding roads being made straight (Isaiah 40:3-4). About the call to work towards bringing to fulfillment the sometimes unfamiliar, evolving landscape of God’s dream for our world. What sounds like a lesson in geography and topography is actually an expression of Advent hope.
Walter Brueggemann’s commentary on Isaiah 11:1 breaks open this theology. In reading “A shoot will sprout from the stump of Jesse,” Brueggemann notes that the stump is anything in our lives that appears dead or closed off or marked with futility and hopelessness. He reads Isaiah as insisting that God can and does bring forth life where none seems possible. That is the essence of hope, to believe in the Holy One’s generative power even in and especially in situations where the world sees only a lifeless stump.
When we dare to act out of a belief that no act of love is ever lost, forgotten or wasted, we are saying an emphatic “No!” to sin and death and “Yes!” to a hopeful vision of God’s dream for our world. When we give time over to prayerful, intentional, contemplative sitting, we are making an act of defiance against social sin and an act of hope that the promises of the Holy One are already being fulfilled in us and in our world.
No matter what is unfolding in our lives this season, no matter where we may find ourselves, we are invited to bring to Emmanuel, God-with-us, our deepest longings, our yearning for healing and completion and wholeness. May we cry out to the Holy One in these words from According to Your Word, Daily Prayers for Advent:
Come, O Holy One!
To the dry and withered landscape,
to the thirsting root,
to the parched desert,
To the lonely and severed branch,
to the shriveled stump that longs for green,
to the broken heart that cannot imagine wholeness,
When I doubt my belovedness,
when my future stands uncertain,
when my life feels unfinished and incomplete,
Even as I wait to celebrate your birth,
come, O Holy One,
green and bud in me this day.
(Chris Koellhoffer, IHM © 2018, Creative Communications for the Parish)
Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Bring before God any part of your life that may feel like “the stump,” any area that feels dead or marked by futility or despair.
Name this, and share your longing for wholeness with the Holy One.
Ask that the generative power of God bring forth new life in you and in your world.
Close by giving thanks that the Holy One is already at work in you.
My next post for Mining the Now will be at the end of December, so I want to take this moment to wish you and those you love every blessing of peace as we celebrate the coming of Emmanuel, who embodies the peace for which we long. Merry Christmas, and thank you for all the ways you witness to the peaceable kin-dom in our time and place.
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