God loves you so much, Reader. God loves you enough to be with you. God chose, for God's own self, a mother. God came to live with us the same way we all come to live with each other. God lived with us through sorrowful times and still does now. God laughed with us the way we still laugh with each other today. God cried with us the same way we cry when we're sad even today. God left God's own Spirit behind, to be our "helper." God surrounds us with this presence now, in the midst of our humanity. For me, that's the essence of this week's Joy candle. It's not that life is always pleasing or perfect . . . it's God's presence no matter what.
I had a beautiful walk the other day, outside the building where members of my family had gathered to be with my grandmother. I saw light coming through winter grass. I saw red berries and blue birds. The sun was warm and the air was very, very cold.
The sun was warm. The air was cold.
We experience opposites more often than we realize. We witness them in this created world. We manifest them in our relationships. We have plenty of pithy sayings about this . . . "so close yet so far."
My grandmother left much to the world in the way of artwork. First, in the form of her children . . . her own, very human, creativity produced them, and they gave life to all of her grandchildren, and we have given life to her great grand children. It will go on and on. Second, she left artwork in the form of beautiful paintings. In my house I have a collection of her practice work from art school - calligraphy, paintings, sketches, and prints. I think if you were to ask her about them, she'd say none of it was perfect, but that she liked it anyway. None of us are perfect, but she loved us anyway. That street goes both ways. That's what life is like, friends. It's a beautiful piece of art, but it's full of imperfection. In the face of imperfection we are compelled to love anyway, laugh anyway, show compassion, kindness and generosity . . . anyway.
I'm sad. And I'm full of joy. It's a paradox I've lived before - many of you have, too. We see the sadness and the great relief at the same time. We're brokenhearted and thankful at the same time. We remember things that make us laugh out loud and five minutes later we're crying again. God's in the middle of that.
God is the child who came into the world to parents who probably weren't ready (no parents ever are). God is the child whose mother had to recover like any other mother. God is the child of a migrating family . . . the product of a mystery that was downright scandalous as it became evident to the community. It's scandalous even now. God is the paradox of familial love - our holding on and our letting go. Communion. Relationship. Joy.
Joy is my happy-sad feeling. Maybe it's yours, too. It's not the same as regular happiness for me because it is strong enough to make space for grief. Happiness tends to fall away with the pressure of grief. Grief is important and God knows this. We were made with intention - God made us with strength to stretch around our grief.
Yesterday we were singing to our grandmother the words of songs she'd taught to us and the words of old carols we thought she'd like. We sang to her, "Now the green blade riseth" and "I want to walk as a child of the light." We sang about life in the face of death.
My grandmother is gone. She was my last grandmother. The top of the box holding my childhood together has come apart, almost completely. I feel like there's a hole in the center of the universe . . . and I know from the loss of our paternal grandmother, some years ago, that this sense of loss won't go away. It will become part of who we all are.
Someday we'll understand things. Or maybe the word "reconcile" is better. Someday we'll be reconciled to everything - all the hard things about the temporal nature of our human lives will somehow be softened. We'll be part of the big forever that carries our loved ones along. I'm not willing to say that I know a whole lot more than that. And that's ok. Knowing just this is plenty.
I stumbled on a song today. My grandmother taught my mother a song about little boats floating down the river. My mother taught it to me. I've been teaching it to my students for the last 5 years. As I thought about this old song, I heard a little chorus in my head, and so I wrote it down. My Grandpa would say, "You look beauteeeful" sometimes to Grandma. I feel like someday I'll run into her again when we're all floating down the river together and I'll understand her and this whole life better. We'll look at each other and say, "you look beautiful."
It's still Advent. I'm still waiting. Peace to you, dear reader, and the Joy of the God who brought us our helper and our friend, Jesus, who understands everything about being human - even grief. Especially grief.
It's the end of a childhood,
The end of a dream.
It's the end of a beautiful love story.
The end of your patience,
The end of your song . . .
But your melody is here and we'll carry it on.