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.

///

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.

///

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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  • HBurns

    O Kelley, your words have spoken deeply to my heart this morning and are teaching me…”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.’ Thank you my friend xo

    • Helen, love that we are on this journey, even through Advent, together. Blessings to you as you lead so many!

  • One of my Advent traditions each year is to open my Bible to the page between the testaments and to just sit with it that way for a while, remembering the four hundred years of the silence of God and the face-like-flint-faithfulness of those who still managed to recognize the Messiah when the silence was broken.
    Your words remind me that we also are waiting.

    • Yes, Michele. History tells us those inter-testamental years were not so silent, actually. Blood and war filled the streets, much wailing and weeping, it was only God who fell silent in those days. No wonder the world longed for a Word again – and a savior.

  • I feel a hush …

    … a conviction

    and a compelling.

    This is so beautiful, friend.

  • “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.”

    Love this. Advent is my single favorite season of this year–thank you for your perspective of it.

    • It’s my favorite season, too. I think I love the space for reflection, the time to consider without expecting smiles and shine, an honest place to embrace the brokeness of the world.

  • Musu Taylor-Lewis

    Much needed word to cut through all the clanging cymbals. Thanks Kelly, I’ve missed your wisdom.

    • Thanks, Musu. I need the silence of Advent to even know what kind of salvation we long for as we wait for the arrival of Christ afresh.

  • What a prayer, what a poem! Such beautiful writing and advent offering! Stunning!

  • Sandy Hay

    You are helping me see lament in an entirely different light Kelley. I had always looked at it from a negative perspective, one to be avoided and definitely not lingered over. You’re opening my eyes…and my heart further. Thank you.

  • Mary Gemmill

    Oh this post did my heart good ~! Mary Mary quite contrary is a contrarian also and loved how you put beautifully into words, exactly what I have been feeling in my spirit yet did not have the words to express.
    Shared with everyone I know !! Thank you.

  • Kristy

    I don’t even have words. Grateful to just sit with your words for a while.

  • Nicole A. Joshua

    Your words, Kelley, invite me into the stillness and beckons me to stand, sing, lament in solidarity with the bruised and heartbroken. It sets, for me, the right tone and attitude for the coming Advent, whispering to my heart to wait with hope. A profound post, Kelley. Thank you.

    • Thanks, Nicole. I believe that true hopers must be people schooled in lament as well. That rich soil allows seeds of hope to grow… Blessed Advent to you!

  • I can feel my heart hush as I read your words here Kelley. Advent has always been a favourite season of mine – and more so every year. The space to wait, to lament, to make room, to hope for the life which yet promises to rise from the ashes. Your heart here is such a beautiful invitation for this coming Advent amidst so much hurting, thank you.

  • jake bosch

    GRIEF WORK

    The power of grief wants to land in Gods open hand.
    But it hovers in the body mind were it is nice and warm
    and loves to make a nice home
    safe and sound in church walls and town halls
    experiencing consumption
    as the only place left in town
    to nest the human soul.
    Resting in the arms of purchased surety
    always on sale
    never to pass away
    a tenacious fear
    waiting to come back seven fold
    in a terrible maze
    a rabbit hole of buy more
    trying not to itch
    an unnamed scared cow.
    Hidden just under the skin without a visible rash
    a silent label of tamed despair
    hiding behind another
    apprehensive
    conditioned smile.
    Life wants a handle to deny that grief is not for real
    not to question the illusion
    that is at your feet.

    Oh!! to stare it in the eye
    with a prophets line of sight.
    with both eyes.
    Without Mt. Sina
    conformity is blind
    with only one eye
    A constant distraction
    to instant attraction.

    OUR GREAT LOSS IS PARADISE LOST
    BROKEN IN A THOUSAND LOTS
    THAT IS YOU AND I.

    The prophets cry out at the crossroads of great loss
    Its a lost chord
    yet red blood flows in bitter tones
    within a new kingdom doxology
    that never stands alone
    to sing
    It is well with my soul.

    THEREFORE !!
    in a chorus of covenant force the prophets spoke.

    LISTEN UP !!
    There is a hidden treasure in the prophets prose
    I will hold you by the hand
    so you can decide
    the active agent that writes it on the lining of your heart
    or a cultural engine that purrs along
    on a one way
    death track.

    LISTEN UP !!
    it is the freedom of God to be the total other
    in a dominate engine
    of western privilege
    and insane production
    believe or not
    Pursue all the pain from the edges to it’s core.
    tear down and pluck up
    rebuild and sow
    is Jeremiah’s tones
    to take a risk
    share it with someone that you know.
    Stand back, look back and see the tiny cracks,
    home land security is a false surety
    nothing can can hold back the power of grief
    until it lands in Gods hands
    Live in it until the fissures become small windows
    and a Jordan opens up again.

    THEREFORE!!
    Embrace the loss and process a freedom paradox
    there is a timeless story
    in all that we have lost
    so good for the soul.
    Sit in the earthiness
    in and out of darkness like an inner strop light
    paradise is lost
    we call it
    dark night of the soul
    discern the power of great sadness expressed.
    Is it Gods freedom,
    that has made a home in human tear ducts?
    Is it Yahweh that wipe them away?
    Psalms of lament in a good creation
    has always told the truth
    Grieve the loss waiting to receive the power of grief
    name it
    as it is in heaven
    so on earth.
    This is holy ground for now,
    with feet on the ground
    this is a paradise lost
    broken in a thousand lots
    that is you and I.
    You have heard before
    it is
    creation groaning
    in your bones.
    The power of grief is amazing grace with the body mind realigned
    reimagined as peace
    reimagined as the lion and the lamb
    in the tree of life
    the prophets foretold
    in the poetry
    for the world.

    THEREFORE!!

    Receive the gifts of God for the people of God.
    A new commodity of hope
    out side the box of a sleepy orthodox
    a sleeping giant
    drugged on strong knowledge,
    But with only one eye
    Trinity is at the door waiting to be welcomed in
    to melt doctrine and good news
    Into one blessed human thing.
    Feel the buried pain
    it needs to crack
    tough layers
    of a common pain
    and breath the fresh air of honest despair.
    Our Lamentations is a new creation, believe it or not.
    Isaiah said it well
    when God said
    ” I see the end from the beginning ”
    and the sojourner
    said
    ” it is well with my soul ”

    Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness.
    It took me years to understand
    that this, too, was a gift.

    – Mary Oliver

  • Leah Kostamo

    Coming to this a day late, but so glad to read your words. “My seed-sized heart” — wow, that packs a punch! Thank you for giving voice to the lament that MUST be a part of our Advent (and, really, is the reason for the first Advent). Peace and grace be with you and prayers for Burundi. xx

    • My hope is that a seed-sized heart can grow… Thanks for your kind words and shared lamentation during this Advent! Love to you, friend.

  • Hannah Kallio

    You may be contrary to society, but this approach (not advent itself, but lament) is very much aligned with God’s character and His word. I am with you from a distance, embracing this promise: “I will give you the treasures of darkness And hidden wealth of secret places, So that you may know that it is I, The LORD, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name” -Is.45:3

    • Yes, lament is a deep tradition we see throughout Scripture. I am so grateful for that hallowed space to bring our ache and feel what we feel about the hurts of the world. I believe that lament is the seedbed for hope – as Isaiah says with poetic force!