I Am A Holy Contrarian

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F_Kelley

I am a holy contrarian. I don’t deck the halls, play merry, shine bright or sparkle. I dim the lights and lean into the hush. It is Advent, after all.

I crack open my spirit and let the dissonance cry out, I rend my soul and allow the discord to seep in slowly, engorging every chamber of my seed-sized heart. I drop all pretenses shielding me and look the weary world straight in her tear-stained eyes. The suffering doesn’t stare so much as wince, pains wrecking the bodice of the earth. Creation groans, indeed.

In the muted hues of Advent, I sit long enough to adjust to less light, less noise, less distraction. In that stillness I know things.

I know young girls are trafficked to serve depraved appetites.

I know children die in the streets of Gaza, the West Bank, even Jerusalem.

I know brown bodies are more likely to be stopped, arrested, accused and incarcerated.

I know people are fleeing hostile lands and finding too little hospitality among us.

I know the poor struggle to survive the rough and tumble of our economies.

I know we rely on war too much and melt far too few swords, guns, drones.

I know we live riddled with fear of others and blind to opportunities for neighborliness.

I know we are so anxious for our own well-being, we have no energy for others who live under threat.

I know I am complicit.

I know I am a daughter of Jerusalem, the sacked city, lamenting all the brokenness and loss.

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In this season I stand in solidarity with the saints who suffered the destruction of their city, exile and hundreds of years without hearing God’s voice speak into their pain. What a crushing silence, all those inter-testamental years. I walk among the ruins. I remember words spoken long ago.

I recite the words of the prophets. Cities are destroyed, but they will be rebuilt. Fortunes lost now will be restored. Those mourning will live to laugh some day. The devastated landscape of the south, Jerusalem and Judah, will be rescued and rise again. Bethlehem, so small and insignificant, will host the birth of a salvific Descendant. The crooked path will be made straight–and the Messiah will come. Hope will rise from the ashes, the prophets promise.

I pay attention to today’s dissidents–Austin Channing, D.L.Mayfield, James Cone, Shane Claiborne, Naim Stifan Ateek. I listen to wisdom from the marginal places–refugee camps, townships, Ferguson and Baltimore. I steep in poetry–like Najwan Darish and Nayyirah Waheed–to soften my edges, awaken my sensibilities. I give the minor key its due because even sadness has a sort of sheen and darkness a kind of insight. Melancholy songs can soothe my soul, offering space for truth telling which allows me to acknowledge that all is not yet well. Feeling it all unlocks something inside me.

I travel the badlands with a sense of wonder–the craters, steep cliffs, dropping off into the valley of the shadow of death. Here we languish, awaiting our Redeemer. A song pulsates with the cadence of a sobbing woman, a weeping messiah. A lament bleeds dark blue for the lost and bereft ones left behind in the wake of violent days. This place holds a holiness hard to articulate. But I linger and pay my respects.

Advent reminds me that this world, with all its shadows, is not beyond redemption. It is Holy Saturday between Crucifixion and Resurrection. We lament the untimely death, sit in confused silence, curious about what hope will do in the days to come. Then a tomb is emptied and we are filled with new life. In this season of long shadows, I await the unexpected life to come.

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Sometimes we sing to ward off the demons and darkness. Other times, like now, we sing in tune with the sorrows of the world. We are empaths hosting the hurts of many. We are the chorus that cries out and wrestles with the night, demanding an ancient blessing. Our Advent song aches for alignment with the First Song sung by the One who sings us whole.

Contrarian that I am, I don’t sing Christmas anthems too soon. I hum plaintive notes in the lowlands. I keep sacred time as I sway to the blues drummed out by the heartbroken, the harassed and the humbled ones. We await the Hope to come together. It is Advent, after all.

NOTE: Advent is the time before Christmas, the season of preparation long celebrated by the Church. Mark Roberts, one of my most beloved professors, offers a good introduction as well as resources for the season.

Books I recommend for Advent reading include Preparing for Christmas: Daily Meditations for Advent by Richard Rohr, Winter Song: Christmas Readings by Madeleine L’Engle & Luci Shaw, A Widening Light: Poems of Incarnation, Luci Shaw, editor (for those who like poetry). 

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Kelley Nikondeha
Kelley is co-director and chief storyteller for Communities of Hope, a community development enterprise in Burundi. She is also the author of Adopted: The Sacrament of Belonging in a Fractured World (Eerdmans).
Kelley Nikondeha
Kelley Nikondeha

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