This post, written by Erin Jantz, originally was published on December 13, 2016, on the ICTG blog.
Life is full of joy and meaning. We are surrounded by beauty, love, and laughter. I personally have enjoyed living in just enough of a mountain town in Southern California this fall to be surrounded by striking colors in the trees as we mark the seasons. Of course, California is also experiencing its worst drought in decades. So between the tall trees boldly wearing their scarlets, rusts, and golds are dead lawns, empty fields, and dirt lots where even the weeds have given up trying to grow. It feels as if the desert is trying to reclaim us and we’re not sure yet which way the tide will go.
There are many times where all of the moments and little glimpses that make life so meaningful are more notable by their absence than anything else. Days that feel like drudgery. Like we will count ourselves lucky if we just manage to put one foot in front of the other enough times to make it through the day. Anxiety, tension, and responsibility creep in and disturb our days and our nights. We are waiting. Which way will we discover? Oasis or parched land?
These days are thirsty. Our souls are thirsty.
This sense of scarcity, the fear of lack, seems poignant as we enter this season of celebrating miracles. Mawlid, Chanukah, and Advent all remember waiting in near darkness. Mawlid celebrates revelation. Chanukah, provision. Advent, holding out for the hope of Light to come. I am struck every year by the words of the first stanza of the Christmas carol, “O Holy Night.” The author says:
Long lay the world
in sin and error pining…
Pining. Not languishing. Not living it up. Pining. Thirsty and parched, but not despairing. Pining implies missing something that is known and deeply loved, and longing for its return. Over the last few months ICTG has been called on again and again by people who’s stories tenderly wrench our hearts. Suicide, sudden deaths, shootings, fires, broken trust, and grief are just some of the burdens being carried through our doors. People with thirsty souls searching for the oasis. People who are pining.
And then at the end of December the Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ with Christmas. They call him Immanuel. God with us.
…'Til God appeared
And the soul felt its worth
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new a glorious morn…
God with us.
How do we make sense of these vastly disparate experiences? The oasis and the desert? Darkness and Light? Joy and grief? Trauma's effect of our spirituality has a distinct aspect of pining to it. There is significant grief associated with unalterable changes in perspective. The sin and error that is sometimes foisted on us leaves us weary and unsure of our worth.
Immanuel, God with us.
God being with us is so touching because it is an unbounded experience. We can find and experience God as much as we are able. God is with us in the breath-taking awe of turning a corner and being surrounded by trees dressed in fiery colors. God is with us in the scratching and scraping of the dead grass and dusty ground. God is with us in the joy of the new and the grief of the loss of the familiar. With us in the darkness and the light and all the spaces in between. God is in our waiting.
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