By: Rachel Lyons
Stay in the wilderness. Stay in the unknown. Don’t leave.
I know it’s confusing here. I know it is often dark, or clouded, or unsettling.
I know you have to wait. You get to wait.
Please. At least we are together, even if it is wilderness.
At most, we are together.
This Sunday’s Gospel story of John the Baptist calls us to repent. He brings Isaiah’s words to life again about this voice in the wilderness. I was taught to read the text not as a voice crying out in the wilderness, as someone shouting from a far off, wild land. I was taught to read it as “A voice cries out: in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord.” In the wilderness. That’s where you prepare the way. Stay in the wilderness. Don’t leave. This voice is not a shout from far away but a cry, a yelp from my neighbor, from my community, from my own chest. Prepare the way of the Lord when it is confusing, dark, clouded, unsettling, uncomfortable, and tiring. Prepare the way of the Lord when it is messy. When it involves interrupting harm. When it involves risk. When it feels political. When it feels personal. God’s love knows no bounds, so who are we to limit it? We prepare the way of the Lord wherever we go so that each individual and collective pathway overlaps and overlaps and overlaps with other pathways until the entire land is covered in God’s way, God’s love, and the only ground we know of is holy ground.
Advent offers this idea of waiting, but also urgency and repentence. For me, in this time of a community, a city, a country where myself and others like me who are privileged escape problems, wish them away, or blame others, I see Advent as a time to wait in the wilderness and not run away. Wait. Wait. Please. At least we are together, even if it is wilderness. I am together with people who don’t choose to be in the wilderness of poverty, doubt, sickness, and trauma, but who are put there, who are targeted by systemic injustice and who are continually marginalized in a whole host of ways. I know we have to wait now. We get to wait. At most, we are together. At most, we make the circle of compassion so large that no one exists outside of it, as Fr. Greg Boyle says. The circle only gets larger when the margins are erased, when those of us in the center move toward relationships, toward kinship, toward pathways and holy ground. And in that circle of relationship, in that wilderness, I have come to see how I am part of the poverty, doubt, sickness, and trauma. I am part of causing it, and I am practicing repentence. I practice repentence through acts of humility, of vulnerability, of naming when I mess up and doing the work to be better. And it’s not perfect – that’s why it’s a practice. So when I go to a meeting on restorative justice in Lawndale, I go to listen first, to follow, and to contribute my gifts. I repent for what people who look like me have done to communities of color. When I hear news of someone shot in Chicago, I listen for the families grieving, for the reasons that led to the situation in a big picture way, rather than the back and forth about someone’s fault or a judgment on their worth in this world. I am learning to take criticism better. I am learning that to prepare the way of the Lord may mean that I follow a path already prepared by someone else who did it better, who knew the ins and outs of struggle, who wasn’t waiting for me to come around but spread God’s warmth and love like wildfire in the face of cold and harsh realities.
We often have space for individual repentence and the Sacrament of Reconciliation during Advent – and I encourage you to attend our service at Old St. Pat’s on December 14. I also encourage you to think about collective repentence, for a deeper sense of who we are as church and what we can learn from humility, from knowing and naming historical pain and trauma, from practicing vulnerability and following the lead of people directly affected by injustice. Prepare the way wherever you are – and find the ways already prepared for you this Advent. May we receive the gift of peace. May we become the gift of peace.