Keeping in tune with the beginning of the liturgical calendar year, We Talk. We Listen. is doing a series entitled simply “What I’m Waiting for this Advent.” Our first author, Rev. Colette Broady Grund of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Mankato, MN, minces no words as she wades through recent family tragedy: “So, at the most basic level, I am waiting for my life to stop sucking.” Yet she explains how the season’s texts comfort her and give much needed support for her grief. Read, comment, and share.
Francisco Herrera – Ph.D. student, Interim Blog Editor
On this past Thanksgiving Day – Thursday, November 28 – it was 5 months since my 46-year-old husband died suddenly. In the time since, my children and I have experienced two hospitalizations, two car accidents, multiple trips to urgent care and one broken bone. I’ve cut back to working three days a week plus Sunday, and there has not been one week in the last ten where I actually worked even that much.
I wrote this sitting in the urgent care waiting room, hoping somebody could stop a month-long battle I’ve been fighting with a cold. (It turned out to be pneumonia. Hooray.)
So, at the most basic level, I am waiting for my life to stop sucking.
Somewhat deeper down, I am waiting for the next bad thing, further proof that I am living in the valley of death’s shadow, in a dark night of the soul. I am, as Mary Oliver says in my favorite of her poems, “so distant from the hope of myself, in which I have goodness, and discernment, and never hurry through the world but walk slowly, and bow often.” I am mostly waiting for this Advent, this Christmas, this first year to be over.
I know I’m not alone in this feeling. Other widows that I know in person or through the internet are waiting too, without much hope that next year will be better. People in my congregation and yours are waiting after terminal diagnoses, knowing that life will only stop sucking because they’re going to die. Our nation waits without much hope on either side for the end of this impeachment trial, knowing we are likely to be left in the same divided congress and country we started with.
While I know many of my contemporaries feel as I do, I am surprised to find myself in good company with the biblical saints in this kind of waiting.
The church I serve uses the Narrative Lectionary and we are still in our first run through the cycle, so the preaching texts often come to me unknown. I have laughed in the face of God with Sarah at promises too good to be true. I have wrestled through many sleepless nights like Jacob, and have walked out the other side with a limping faith. I have felt the bitterness of Naomi at her widow’s lot, while at the same time surrounded by women who have bound their lives to mine and will not let me go.
In this fall’s reading through the Hebrew Scriptures, I have noticed how painful the lives God’s people endure are, how uncertain their future even when they do what God asks. These saints have made me feel so much less alone.
We are moving now into the season of prophets. In this year’s readings, as always, they speak words of promise after desolation, a future hope powerful enough to sustain the weary faithful through generations of exile. The nearly un-redeemable Hosea speaks God’s tender parental love even for me who wants little to do with her Mother right now. Isaiah tells me that God can bring a new shoot from my cut down heart, a life on the other side of death. Jeremiah casts a vision over the desolation all around me, promising that life will be restored in an abundance beyond Eden. Isaiah calls out comfort, that I have suffered enough and the road to God is about to get flat and straight.
I cannot say I believe their words just yet, but I want to. Maybe that wanting is movement enough toward God. It may only be desire now, but God’s spirit may yet use this season to fan that spark into an actual flame of faith.
In hope of just that, I have cleared space on my dining room buffet for a family Advent wreath and I began lighting the candles last week. I did not, however begin with the first blue candle, because my LSTC advisor and worship professor, Rev. Dr. Mark Bangert taught me well to stay in my liturgical season. Instead, I have begun where the wreath is supposed to end, in the middle, with the Christ candle. If there is anyone who knows about growing hope from a Spirit-conceived spark into a full-formed being, it is Christ.
So I light Christ’s candle daily, hoping that as it shrinks, my faith will grow. Perhaps by Christmas, I will look into the manger and fully believe that the Holy One has come to dwell in the midst of my life too.
Rev. Collette Broady Grund lives in Mankato, Minnesota with the five children that call her step/mom. They are all finding their way forward together after the death of their husband and step/dad in June, with much help from Bethlehem Lutheran Church, where she serves as associate pastor. Rev. Broady Grund also directs Connections Ministry, an ecumenical ministry that shelters people experiencing homeless. She blogs about her grief and ministry at www.collettebroadygrund.com.