Along with others, I’m dipping into Maggi Dawn’s book Beginnings and Endings during the season of Advent 2013.
This past year has contained rather more endings and beginnings than I would have chosen. Many of the endings have been gut-wrenchingly painful. The same has been true of the beginnings also…
I’m someone who prefers stability, same-old-same-old, routine, the familiar… so a house-move to a completely unkown area (I’d visited it precisely four times, including the house-viewing, before we moved) after 29 years in our previous community, 27 in the same house, has been, to put it mildly, traumatic. And in the wake of that enormous ending-and-beginning has come a stream of other endings-and-beginnings. I knew the house move and associated changes would be a challenge – I didn’t aniticipate the effect it would have in every area of my life, emotional, psychological and spiritual as well as physical.
And interestingly, for once in my life, this very painful journey has precisely mirrored the Church Calendar.
Now I know this is very rarely the case – I’ve gone through enough Christmasses grieving for a recently-died loved one, and one year sitting at the side of my father’s bed as he struggled for breath (he actually died on New Year’s Day), to understand from the inside the sense of dislocation that comes as fireworks are proclaiming loudly the New Year whilst someone who has always been there for you is slipping away, carving a black hole in your heart which it seems at that moment that nothing can ever fill, or the gut-wrenching pain of being forced to listen to Christmas carols and songs – all unrelentingly cheerful – blaring over the tannoy in shops or assailing your ears from brass bands situated, it can seem, on every street corner when they bring back the memory of hospital corridors, tinsel-decorated wards and then the finality of the coffin at the crematorium.
The Advent and Christmas seasons will always be, for me and I suspect for many others, bitter-sweet.
However, this past year – starting with the weekend before Advent in 2012, the one where we celebrated Christ the King, my personal roller-coaster ride from darkness to light has precisely mirrored the Church calendar – although I didn’t realise it until last weekend – Christ the King 2013 – when the roller-coaster finally came to a halt and I have been able to alight and survey calmly the place to which it has brought me – that is, the emotional, psychological, physcial and above all spiritual place to which it has brought me.
And for me, the juxtaposition of tenses in Psalm 27 exactly expresses the new awareness I now have as I look back over the past year.
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh—
my adversaries and foes—they shall stumble and fall.
Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear;
though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident.
One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.
For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
he will set me high on a rock.
Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the Lord.
Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me!
“Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!”
Your face, Lord, do I seek. Do not hide your face from me.
Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help.
Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation!
If my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up.
Teach me your way, O Lord,
and lead me on a level path because of my enemies.
Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries,
for false witnesses have risen against me, and they are breathing out violence.
I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord!
The Lord is my light, my salvation – present tenseWhom shall I fear? – future tense
My foes…shall stumble – future tense
My heart shall not fear – future tense
One thing I asked – past tense
That I will seek – future tense
To live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life – a strong sense of present continuous
He will hide me… will conceal me… will set me high – future tense
Now my head is lifted up – present tense
I will offer sacrifices…I will sing – future tense
Hear o Lord when I cry – present tense with a strong sense of an ongoing need for God’s help
‘come’…‘seek’ – present tense command
Do not cast me off – a continuous awareness of our need for God’s support
And for the future – whatever it brings, even the unthinkable agony of parents forsaking children – always the Lord will take me up – whenever- past, present future.
and then – all present tense:
lead meI believe
interspersed with a touch of past, present, future all wrapped up in the impassioned plea:
Do not give me up – implied future
false witnesses have arisen – past
and they are breathing – present
Surely all of this mad jumble is precisely what we should expect – and indeed how we find it to be – when moving into a deepening relationship with the God Who Is, the God Whose Name is “I Am Who I Am”, the Lord of all time for Whom every moment is “now”.
For just as past damage can reach into our present and threaten our future, so present healing can, by the power of God, reach into our past and bring us to a point where, in some sense, we have always been whole and thus free us for the future.
And in every ending is the seed of a new beginning, and in every beginning is the end of what has been and the birth of what will be.
And the season of Advent is the season of waiting and watching and above all being as we wait for God’s coming. Not just His coming at Christmas but His coming in every Now. And however dark or light our own particular Now is at this moment – and at this moment – and at this moment… however dark or light, if we bring our Now into the light of His Now then we too will shine with His light and lighten the darkness around us.
Therefore we can with confidence, and always in the present tense,
Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let our hearts take courage;
wait for the Lord!