An Advent Paradox: Filled Because I’m Emptied

horsehairvase

 

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be as you have said.”
Luke 1: 38

 

…to bear in her womb
Infinite weight and lightness; to carry
in hidden, finite inwardness,
nine months of Eternity; to contain
in slender vase of being,
the sum of power –
in narrow flesh,
the sum of light.

Then bring to birth,
push out into air, a Man-child
needing, like any other,
milk and love –

but who was God.
~Denise Levertov, from “Annunciation”

 

annunciation
The Annunciation by Henry Tanner, Philadelphia Museum of Art

 

I want it to be the way I want it:
my plans, my timing, my hopes and dreams first and foremost.

And then life happens and suddenly nothing looks the way it was supposed to be. I feel abandoned and completely emptied.

Yet only then, as an empty vessel, can I be filled. How am I to respond to such a paradox?

In my work in a University Health Center, I see this struggle in the lives of young adults: a tremendous lack of resiliency, an inability to ride the waves that crash and overwhelm. One of the most common responses to the unexpected is to panic, facing uncontrollable anxiety that interferes with eating, sleeping, working, studying. A common response to anxiety is to self-medicate in any way easily accessible: alcohol, marijuana, nicotine, sex, a friend’s prescription drugs. A little isn’t working so a lot might be better. The anxiety is compounded and descends into deepening depression.

The sadness and hopelessness, even anger –is a discouragement stemming from the lack of control of circumstances, feeling there is no way out, being unable to find another path to a different future. This leads too frequently to thoughts of ending one’s life as it seems too painful and pointless to continue, and more rarely, taking others’ lives at the same time in an attempt to make sure everyone else knows the depth of the pain.

There is an epidemic of hopelessness among our society’s young people that I’ve never before seen to this extent in my forty years of clinical work. To them, their debts seem too great, their reserves too limited, their foundations too shaky, their hope nonexistent, their future too dim. They cannot ride the waves without feeling they are drowning. So they look for any way out.

In the annunciation of the angel approaching a young woman out of the blue, Mary’s response to this overwhelming circumstance is a model for us all when we are hit by a wave we didn’t expect and had not prepared for.

She is prepared; she has studied and knows God’s Word and His promise to His people, even in the midst of trouble. She is able to articulate it beautifully in the song she sings as her response. She gives up her so-carefully-planned-out life to give life to God within her.

Her resilience sings through the ages and to each one of us in our troubles:
may it be to me as you say.

May it be.
Your plans, Your purpose, Your promise.
Let it be.
Even if it may pierce my soul as with a sword so that I leak out to empty.
You are there to plug the bleeding hole and fill me.

So I sing through my fear, through my weariness, through my tears.

 

“Like Mary, we have no way of knowing… We can ask for courage, however, and trust that God has not led us into this new land only to abandon us there.”
~Kathleen Norris from God With Us

 

Matthias-Stomer-Annunciation-Painting
Matthias Stomer’s Annunciation

 

 

 

Everything inside me cries for order
Everything inside me wants to hide
Is this shadow an angel or a warrior?
If God is pleased with me, why am I so terrified?
Someone tell me I am only dreaming
Somehow help me see with Heaven’s eyes
And before my head agrees,
My heart is on its knees
Holy is He. Blessed am I.

Be born in me
Be born in me
Trembling heart, somehow I believe
That You chose me
I’ll hold you in the beginning
You will hold me in the end
Every moment in the middle,
Make my heart your Bethlehem
Be born in me

All this time we’ve waited for the promise
All this time You’ve waited for my arms
Did You wrap yourself inside the unexpected
So we might know that Love would go that far?

Be born in me
Be born in me
Trembling heart, somehow I believe
That You chose me
I’ll hold you in the beginning
You will hold me in the end
Every moment in the middle,
Make my heart your Bethlehem
Be born in me

I am not brave
I’ll never be
The only thing my heart can offer is a vacancy
I’m just a girl
Nothing more
But I am willing, I am Yours
Be born in me
Be born in me
Trembling heart, somehow I believe
That You chose me
I’ll hold you in the beginning
You will hold me in the end
Every moment in the middle,
Make my heart your Bethlehem
Be born in me

Francesca Battistelli

God Was Here: How Can This Be?

decdogwood

 

If God’s incomprehensibility does not grip us in a word, if it does not draw us into his superluminous darkness, if it does not call us out of the little house of our homely, close-hugged truths..we have misunderstood the words of Christianity.  
~Karl Rahner

 

dogwood111117

 

And he [John] will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this?

Luke 1: 17-18

the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”
38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
Luke 1:29-38

 

 

dogwoodoct1

 

Zechariah asks:
How can I be sure?
How can I trust this is true even when it doesn’t make sense in my every day world?
How can I trust God to accomplish this?

These are not the questions to be asked; he was struck mute, speechless until immersed in the reality of impossibility and then he sang loudly with praise.

Instead, we are to ask, like Mary:
How can this be?
How am I worthy?
How am I to be confident within incomprehensibility and calm in the midst of mystery?
How am I to be different as a result?

It is when we are most naked, at our emptiest, that we are clothed and filled with God’s glory.
We do not need to be sure.
We just need to be.
Changed.

 

dogwoodsunset2

 

May it be an evening star
Shines down upon you
May it be when darkness falls
Your heart will be true
You walk a lonely road
Oh! How far you are from home

Mornie utúlië (darkness has come)
Believe and you will find your way
Mornie alantië (darkness has fallen)
A promise lives within you now

May it be the shadows call
Will fly away
May it be you journey on
To light the day
When the night is overcome
You may rise to find the sun

Mornie utúlië (darkness has come)
Believe and you will find your way
Mornie alantië (darkness has fallen)
A promise lives within you now
A promise lives within you now

 

 

pinkdogwood517

Turn Aside and Look: Let My Yea Be Yea

floweringquincejapan2

wateriris

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.
~2 Corinthians 1:20

floweringquincejapan1

When will I ever learn to say Amen,
Really assent at last to anything?
For now my hesitations always bring
Some reservation in their trail, and then
Each reservation brings new hesitations;
All my intended amens just collapse
In an evasive mumble: well, perhaps,
Let me consider all the implications . . .

But you can read my heart, I hear you say:
For once be present to me, I am here,
Breathe in the perfect love that casts out fear
Open your heart and let your yea be yea.

Oh bring me to that brink, that moment when
I see your full-eyed love and say Amen.
~Malcolm Guite — “Amen”

camelliapinkjapan

Our answer to the invitation to be loved —  when we are restless and uneasy, when we are broken and empty, when we feel unknowable and unloveable —  should be “Yes”, over and over.

God tells us “Yes”, again and again, that we may know Him as He is one with us.  Mere mortals have experienced God born of and from the flesh, as He walked, ate, slept among us.

Christ became the Yes,  the covenant, the contract God has made with His people.  We are bound to Him, even when we pull away and say “No” as the unloveable are wont to do,  regularly and emphatically.

When young Mary was told the impossible, the implausible, the incomprehensible would happen to her, her response was not “No way–go find someone else!”.  Her response was “Behold the willing servant of the Lord; let it be unto me according to thy word.”    She says, in essence “Yes!  And Amen!”

How often do we respond with such trust and faithfulness, accepting Christ as the ultimate “Yes” from God, who ensures our everlasting salvation?

Let it be. Let our Yes be Yes.

 

peach2japan

camelliajapan7

 

Advent Cries and Sings: May it Be

Leonardo Da Vinci--The Annunciation
Leonardo Da Vinci–The Annunciation

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be as you have said.”
Luke 1: 38

We want it to be the way we want it: our plans, our timing, our hopes and dreams first and foremost.
And then life happens and suddenly nothing looks the way it was supposed to be. How are we to respond?

In my work in a University Health Center, I see in young adults a tremendous lack of resiliency, an inability to ride the waves that crash and overwhelm. One of the most common responses to the unexpected is to panic, facing uncontrollable anxiety that interferes with eating, sleeping, working, studying. A common response to anxiety is to self medicate in any way easily accessible: alcohol, marijuana, nicotine, sex, a friend’s prescription drugs. A little isn’t working so a lot might be better. The anxiety is compounded and becomes deepening depression.

The sadness and hopelessness, even anger –is a discouragement stemming from the lack of control of circumstances, feeling there is no way out, being unable to find another path to a different future. This leads too frequently to thoughts of ending one’s life as it seems too painful and pointless to continue, and thankfully more rarely, taking others’ lives at the same time in an attempt to make sure everyone else knows the depth of the pain.

There is an epidemic of hopelessness among our society’s young people that I’ve never before seen to this extent in my thirty years of clinical work. To them, their debts seem too great, their reserves too limited, their foundations too shaky, their hope nonexistent, their future too dim. They cannot ride the waves without feeling they are drowning. So they look for any way out.

In the annunciation of the angel approaching a young woman out of the blue, Mary’s response to this overwhelming circumstance is a model for us all when we are hit by a wave we didn’t expect and had not prepared for.

She is prepared; she has studied and knows God’s Word and His promise to His people. She is able to articulate it beautifully in the song she sings as her response. She gives up her so carefully planned life to give life to God within her.

Her resilience sings through the ages: may it be to me as you say.

May it be.
Your plans, Your purpose, Your promise.
Let it be.
Even if it may pierce my soul as with a sword.
You are there to plug the bleeding hole.

And I will sing through my tears.