I started reading the selection my Sunday Associate has chosen as her text for an Advent Quiet Day she is leading later on next month. Auden's For the Time Being is an oratorio length poem that takes us through an experience of Advent, Annunciation, Christmas. The first movement of the poem is challenging and appropriate to the season and how I am seeing life right now. The days grow short, both with the waning of the light as we move toward winter...And as we feel the weight of creation start to retard the momentum of life, pulling it toward dormancy, shadow and expectation. Wonderful, somber, rich phrases which push and pull deep beneath the surface of my thoughts. Good stuff!
Right now, I am all caught up in the Annunciation to Mary. There is a raw elegance to her exchange with Gabriel...The herald of God who calls on her, and us, to "WAKE." She is offered the opportunity to choose to bear God in her...And she struggles, wrestles and balks with that concept. Just like we all do, she wonders and worries and exults at the awareness that something is happening to her that will take her beyond herself:
My flesh in terror and fire
Rejoices that the Word
Who utters the world out of nothing,
As a pledge of His word to love her
Against her will, and to turn
Her desperate longing to love,
Should ask to wear me,
From now to their wedding day,
For an engagement ring.
Mary is us! Struggling with all that we are as human beings to make sense of existing, loving, hating and hoping, that there is somewhere in the midst of it all that we are called upon to birth Christ. That wild, wonderful and active sense of God becoming in us is something that I too often forget what it feels like. Sure, I am supposed to proclaim that reality. I am called on as a leader of this community to model it...But it is like trying to explain what red is like to a blind person, or what chocolate tastes like to someone with no tastebuds. Worse, I am the blind one, the one without the ability to taste, trying to remember what it is like to see and taste...And then to try to tell another what that was like.
The beauty of being blessed by God in Advent and with Incarnation is that we are actively reminded, again and again, what it is like to see, hear, feel, taste, know and smell God as God is and not as we would have God be for us. Confronting the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes in the manger, or hearing yet again how God's promise of life in God is to be fulfilled is meant to surprise us. Like the taste of the first, fresh peach of summer...Or the savor of a cup of coffee on a the first frosty morning...We are meant to feel like explorers discovering a forgotten land all over again for the first time.
That is what it means to live in grace. Trinity is doing that, even as we struggle and strive to be a whole community in faith that has grown beyond any individual or sub-groups comfort levels. It is a scary thing to be a part of an expanding, organic community. There is this sense of things pressing in, of there being too much or of things being out of control. That is just God exceeding our expectations, more often than not. Our responsibility is to discern how we will respond. Do we embrace, stretch and accept? Do we choose, as if we had a choice, to opt out for a reticent quietude?
This is no easy thing. Stewardship met last night, and the BIG question is how do we maintain and cultivate the momentum that is at this moment apparent around people's enthusiasm and support for the mission and vision of this parish? How do we challenge and encourage vestry and the many ministry leaders to dream big dreams? How do we avoid the stigma of failure AND success? How do we truly embrace what is happening here at the revelation of God's will for this awesome, fractured, healing, hoping family?
The more I think about it, the more I realize that this is EXACTLY where we need to be as a parish as we enter into a new liturgical year. We NEED to be a little ragged, a little hungry and quite a bit hopeful that God will be with us. Some may need God to follow us into the shadows of the coming year's possibilities. Others may need to see the light of God's love shining to them out of the murk ahead as a beacon signing the way. Some few might just need a sense of walking hand in hand in confident resonance that at least, right now, we stand at the center of the universe.
Auden's poem, so far, has been a true tonic to me. It reminds me that even in the certitude and absolute that is God there is still room for human beings to have time to wonder, wrestle, even doubt that the WHOLE love of our creator is being aimed DIRECTLY at our own tender souls for a SPECIFIC purpose.