by Lauren Van HamJoy is the echo of God’s life in us.
- Abbot Columba Marmion
In thy presence is fullness of joy.
- Psalms 16:11
I live across the street from the police station, in Berkeley, California. Last week, for a string of nights the, “I Can’t Breathe” demonstrations happening around the city, brought with them helicopters, sirens, beating drums and riot gear. Quickly I realized this was my empathy training; my turn to peek into the lives of humans around the world whose nervous systems must endure this and so much more.
Paradoxically, for the same number of days I was attempting to find a steady serenity amidst the tension of the protests, my partner was working near Lake Tahoe, and sending me photos from his surroundings.
The juxtaposition of our different realities was stunning! How does God inhabit it all? War zones to new babies; hurricanes to fields resting fallow; bustling factories and traffic jams to houses of worship filled with prayerful souls…and on, and on the list goes. The late Madeleine L’Engle called Advent, “the irrational season,” and indeed, it is. And this week, the third week, we light the pink candle, the Joy candle.
It was Joy where I arrived last week, amidst all the soul noise and outward confusion, alongside the photos and contrast of multiple realities. Joy is large enough to hold it all; in Joy we are filled with the connection to something larger than us all. Dr Maya Angelou’s poem, Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem, invites us into this place too, and I want to share the piece with you. Please read it aloud, and please share it with others in the next week or so – with your small group, or at a dinner with dear ones.
What is your favorite line in the poem? What image do these words plant in you? What, from these images, will you carry with you as we walk together toward Christmas?
Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem
by Dr. Maya Angelou
Thunder rumbles in the mountain passes And lightning rattles the eaves of our houses. Flood waters await us in our avenues.
Snow falls upon snow, falls upon snow to avalanche Over unprotected villages. The sky slips low and grey and threatening.
We question ourselves. What have we done to so affront nature? We worry God. Are you there? Are you there really? Does the covenant you made with us still hold?
Into this climate of fear and apprehension, Christmas enters, Streaming lights of joy, ringing bells of hope And singing carols of forgiveness high up in the bright air. The world is encouraged to come away from rancor, Come the way of friendship.
It is the Glad Season. Thunder ebbs to silence and lightning sleeps quietly in the corner. Flood waters recede into memory. Snow becomes a yielding cushion to aid us As we make our way to higher ground.
Hope is born again in the faces of children It rides on the shoulders of our aged as they walk into their sunsets. Hope spreads around the earth. Brightening all things, Even hate which crouches breeding in dark corridors.
In our joy, we think we hear a whisper. At first it is too soft. Then only half heard. We listen carefully as it gathers strength. We hear a sweetness. The word is Peace. It is loud now. It is louder. Louder than the explosion of bombs.
We tremble at the sound. We are thrilled by its presence. It is what we have hungered for. Not just the absence of war. But, true Peace. A harmony of spirit, a comfort of courtesies.
Security for our beloveds and their beloveds.
We clap hands and welcome the Peace of Christmas. We beckon this good season to wait a while with us. We, Baptist and Buddhist, Methodist and Muslim, say come. Peace. Come and fill us and our world with your majesty. We, the Jew and the Jainist, the Catholic and the Confucian, Implore you, to stay a while with us. So we may learn by your shimmering light How to look beyond complexion and see community.
It is Christmas time, a halting of hate time.
On this platform of peace, we can create a language To translate ourselves to ourselves and to each other.
At this Holy Instant, we celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ Into the great religions of the world. We jubilate the precious advent of trust. We shout with glorious tongues at the coming of hope. All the earth's tribes loosen their voices To celebrate the promise of Peace.
We, Angels and Mortal's, Believers and Non-Believers, Look heavenward and speak the word aloud. Peace. We look at our world and speak the word aloud. Peace. We look at each other, then into ourselves And we say without shyness or apology or hesitation.
Peace, My Brother. Peace, My Sister. Peace, My Soul.
About Lauren: Lauren lives in Berkeley, CA. She serves as Dean at The Chaplaincy Institute (ChI), an interfaith seminary and tends her private practice as a spiritual director. You can read Lauren’s blog at: http://www.laurenvanham.com/