Anna the Old

And now its the next day.  And then the day after that.

In previous posts I wrote about how the lead up to Christmas can make it seem like Christmas is the climax, the end of the story of our waiting. And it is.  And it also is not.  If Christmas is the answer it is not like any answer we have come to expect.  It is a non-answer, a whispered answer, an answer ushered in through the back door, talked about by people we don’t know if we can trust.  It is a glorious moment, a brilliant call and chorus shone into the dark followed by a lot of quiet.   Christmas is more like a doorway.  Through which we could walk, if we wanted.  And on the other side….well, we can just keep walking.  Like Mary, like Joseph, like Elizabeth, Simeon and like Anna, like the shepherds.  On the other side of this door is a baby being fed, being changed, crying, sleeping and a mother and father trying to figure it out, trying to make ends meet, trying to fulfill all the expectations, to process all the dreams, to wait with all that knowing in their hearts as normal life just goes.  Normal life and also hard life and good life.

 

But now…..well, now we HAVE gone through that door.  That Christmas door swung open.  And as we passed through, something grabbed our attention. Something about that baby made us remember…..Something in that glorious shot in the dark  woke us up.

 

I read about Anna this week.  Anna, the very old woman who lived at the temple.     You may have read about her, but most of us have never really thought about her.  I hadn’t.  She was there when Jesus was presented at the temple.   She was always there.

“There was a prophetess, too, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher.  She was well on in years.  Her days of girlhood over, she had been married for seven years before becoming a widow.  She was now  84 years old and never left the temple, serving God night and day with fasting and prayer.  She came up just at that moment and began to praise God; and she spoke of the child to all who looked forward to the deliverance of Jerusalem.”    Luke 2:36-38

 

In this small text, a lot of time is spent making clear that she was old.  That she was alone, and had been a long time.  We don’t know if she had children.  If she did, they weren’t part of her life now.  We do know that she lived at the temple.  Praying, waiting, hoping.  She was there all the time.  She saw a lot of small boys being brought to the temple.  Every day boys would be brought to be consecrated by their young parents, just trying to do the right thing.

I think of Mary and her young womb that carried that baby.  And then I think of Anna, and her old womb, empty, unfilled, always praying, always waiting, always hoping, aging day after day.  Advent is Mary – the quiet yes, the yielding,  the fulfillment.  But Advent is also Anna–the quiet loneliness, the day after day after day fast, that blind-corner kind of waiting.

And then one day, one of those babies, unspeaking and watching, was carried through the doors, she was coming up the stairs and around the corner and she saw him, and she knew.  How did she know?  How did she know this was the one she had been waiting for?

How did she know that this one, this baby whose own hands fascinated him, was the one, the one promised to fill, to repair, to restore, to make way, to bring light, to make straight, to grow all anew?

 

Maybe, and I say this because in some sense I know that I know this, and in some sense we all know this, maybe she felt her own carved out waiting-ness being filled.  Being filled out.  Maybe that place inside her, her old womb, was filled with something the newly pregnant know.  Maybe it was that knowing, secret, given power of something quickening inside you.

Maybe it was a remembering.

Maybe, when she saw him, she remembered something, from when she was a child, something about who she was, about all that she knew she was, and was created as; about all that she knew her days had been given to.

This is how it is when we recognize Jesus.  We all remember something in that carved out place within us.  We experience that swelling, that filling in our deepest memories and we are propelled through that Christmas door.

 

Anna waited, old.  Anna waited, old, with the shape of her life carved out by the sameness, the hunger, the hope.  She was one of a long line of women overlooked by their world but who knew and saw and recognized the very face of God when he entered their line of sight.  Sarah and also Hagar.  Ruth and also Naomi.  Mary and also Anna.   That Samaritan woman.   That mother.  That daughter.  You.  Me.

Something in us knows when we are known, knows when our own carved out hollows are filling.  And we praise all that we know to be God at that time.  And we try to find out what He is doing.  And then after that, we keep walking; still hollowed out, still not completely aware of the fullness that is possible, but we walk through because there was something we recognized.  And something that keeps us going.  And something we keep remembering.  And something just keeps filling us.

When an old woman is seen by God, and when an old woman sees God, that is a very powerful thing.    That is where He loves to speak, where he loves to fill.  Listen to what those women say.  Today at church a woman, an older woman in our community stood up to tell us all a long story about another woman that lived with her in the seniors home.  And this woman was reading a book about another woman who was received a promise from God when she was a baby.  In this story, within a story, within our dear friend’s Story, the woman didn’t see fruition until much much later in her life.  And in that story, our friend saw life and promise and God – so much so that she stood up in front of us all to tell us.    Pay attention when the old women speak my friends.  They know something about walking in that day after day advent, and recognizing the face of God when they see it re-member-ing them back to themselves.

 

The following quotes I came across in the few hours after posting the above…..amazing.

“In the old days, the land felt a great emptiness.

It was waiting. Waiting to be filled up.

Waiting for someone to love it.”

–the opening lines from Whale Rider

“Still the longing for the “old, old story” remains; whatever is in the bottom of the heart, stays there.”

— from Vincent Van Gogh’s letters to his brother Theo

I thought they were appropriate and beautiful and weirdly timely.

 

 

Hope…..hopefully.

I’ve been thinking about hope all week. What gives us hope? What does it look like in my daily, house-cleaning, school-drop-off, dinner-making-ish, life?   What is hope in my home with my girls, with my husband, or with my parents, my brother, my in-laws?

 

What does hope look like to my friends–dear, dear women who keep showing up for me and keep making me laugh and keep being extra love for my kids.

What does hope look like at church-that weird mix of people, some who you deeply love and some, or most, you barely know and, potentially, some you wish you didn’t have to know.

Where is hope at your kid’s school, at the grocery store, in the 3 year old’s gymnastics class viewing area.

What does hope look like when we are listening to the news, or scrolling our facebook feeds, wondering where the world we grew up in, and were excited for, went?

What words can hope possibly have to say when we are constantly up in arms, taking up arms, firing and firing over and over, constantly filled with fear and worry?

What word does hope possibly have to say when we are alone, exhausted, numb, bored, terrified, looking for the next big thing to captivate us, finding ourselves, much to our own unheeded horror hurting people out of our own fear and stress? Broken, cracked, misaligned, sawn off from any source of life.

 

And finally, where is hope, what does it say, what does it look like when we turn to it, when we ask for it, when we begin to uncover it, recover it, receive it, turn our faces towards it?

What finally stands before us when we open our hands a bit and are standing in that bit of winter sun?

 

 

A Thrill of Hope. Not sure if there is a better way to put it than that.

 

 

Earlier this fall, I was worried about my oldest daughter.   I stood outside her school after dropping her off, hoping and despairing a bit for her. Tears were close to the surface. Another mom I didn’t know very well said “Hi, how are you?” And I couldn’t quite hide the tears at that moment, much to my embarrassment. She responded kindly and then she said, “Do you want to come over for coffee? Right now?” And I very much did in that moment. And we had a lovely, impromptu coffee, conversation with our littlest girls playing happily. I left her house to walk back to our car and was filled with…. A flash of hope, I think. A thrill of hope. It was a broad, expanding feeling. I looked at the sky and saw the yellow blueness that is Alberta’s sky. I saw the trees reaching up, intersecting the bands of clouds that stretch over the mountains.  And I had this picture in my head of the earth being made of a fabric that was being woven around the houses, the trees, the streetlights, the buildings, the cars. Everything we are, have, and make was being woven together, layer after layer – like an earth size knitting-bomb. And I saw that what was actually happening that morning, when one mom asked a close-to-tears mom over for coffee, was another thread being fit into place, weaving the fabric of the world together, adding another layer to the firmament that holds it all together. In that moment of connection, us two, two relative strangers, two different women with different experiences, different knowledge and ways of being in the world, made space in our own selves for the other. And while there was a good chance we would get along, have some common interests, we were a bit brave I think. And we made more of the world, made it good and made it strong – for us and for our children, just by connecting and trying and not being afraid.

 

In a vulnerable space, raw from the intensity and helplessness that seem to be a lot of parenting, I saw hope. It was that moment that enters us and makes us feel loved, seen and that keeps us remembering that even now and in the final moment, the earth and its creatures will be held.  Hope made the world. Hope for connection , for communion. Hope keeps the world, keeps holding up our place in the world.   Hope hopes for who we truly are.

 

LM.Montgomery, in Emily of New Moon, perfectly calls this The Flash. Its that moment when something just catches you. When you see something or know something and somehow the curtain of what the world really is is pulled back and you are inspired and look forward to what really could be and what already is – you get a flash of Hope into the most true story. Emily Starr was always looking for the flash and paying attention to when it appeared. Especially when things seemed very dark, when she saw it, she knew she could keep going.

 

The flash is all around us. Where do you see the flash? Pay attention to the flash. Write it down. Read your story for the flash. And look for the Author.  You might not find him where you thought you would, but you will definitely find him exactly where you are.

 

 

—I wrote that, the above, this morning—

 

I sit in the dark at the end of a heavy day. I cried on the way to school because of what I was hearing on the news. I do not know how we will claw back from this slide into a big, big war. Especially when no one seems to care.  Especially when people are cheering at the thought of killing other people.  I am gutted.

 

And now, I ask you, Hope, where are you? What do you take us for? What are you requiring of us?   All of us, in these times.

 

I got nothing…except for maybe this. That it is never…..never the big answer from the big power that solves anything, that changes anything.  True hope and true love can’t be legislated into existence.   Love, trust, and even hope, happen in the minuscule, the small, the daily, the real relationship you have right now.

I heard an interview with a scholar who had spent his whole life studying evil and war and what leads to humans doing these horrors and he was asked the question: So what is the solution? How can we change this? And his answer was this: To go home and be the best parent you can be. To work on knowing and relating well, with love, with compassion, with empathy for others and to teach your children to do the same. Doing all the right things without love and compassion in your home, in your closest company, and in your actions towards your neighbors and the strangers around you, will not actually change the world. But Loving someone well, will.   It will change us. Being loved changes us and changes the world.

 

And that’s what we preach….or what we should preach.   That’s where the flash is-right at home, right where you are right now– Where it might be hardest to see, but where it pulls back the curtain the most.

 

And that’s where the hope is for me tonight. The fabric and the flash are still there-still holding out hope, and they are truly there in our everyday choice to love.   They hit us and enlarge us to see new possibilities we didn’t know were there and they pull back the curtain on how things truly are.   I don’t know how to fight the terrorists or the Trumps. A war of words on the internet is not going to do it.

 

But loving my kids in their awful learning how to be a human, loving my husband in his exhaustion, loving myself in my crackedness and inability…..and knowing that all of us are LOVED by the Creator who made a good world, enters that good world and brings that good world back to himself over and over and over. This is no small thing and yet maybe it finds its true power in the small, the ordinary, the often overlooked – the fabric and the flash are closer than you think.  This is the story of the world and the hope I (have to and desperately want to) choose to live in.

 

 

Big breath.

 

No word of a lie, my littlest just came down….an hour after she was supposed to be asleep. And she said she was afraid. And I brought her onto my lap, held her like a (really huge) baby and said, “ I feel afraid too. What do you think we should do when we are afraid?” (thinking she would say something like, “eat a cookie “ or “Watch Paw Patrol!” ) But she said, “Um….we could….um….love eachother?”

 

Huh…..another big, big breath.

 

 

—–I wrote the above two days ago—-

 

 

I got a call on Friday afternoon. My parents were in Emergency. My mom’s lungs were filling up with fluid and she needed to get them drained. She had been fighting a nasty virus for about 6 weeks and she had to get them drained a couple weeks ago. So this was not entirely unexpected and almost a relief—just get it done and get it out and hopefully get better.   My parents said they were fine. Just tired and bored.   No, I didn’t need to bring them dinner, they had eaten.

 

At 830pm I got another call. From my dad. He said, “Its not good. Its not good news.” They had the results back from the earlier tests. There was cancer markers in the fluid. Maybe colon cancer. They were referring her to a cancer doctor. Its not good news. My dad cried. That was the worst part. Knowing my dad was in pain and afraid because my mom was in pain and was afraid. There is no way to downplay something when your dad is crying.

She stayed in the hospital all night. Lots of texts and calls to figure out what to do with the dog. How was it all going to work. Was mom going to be ok at the hospital all night, she needed earplugs.   I scrolled through pinterest and watched an hour of Netflix. I was numb. And then all of a sudden, I cried . A lot. Not even about what could be the end of this story but because of the hard, hard road they will have to walk down in the next months. So much poking and prodding and bodies just miserable. So much juggling emotions and responsibilities and trying to be strong.

 

I got a call the next morning. More bad news.   The CT scan showed tumors in the lungs. Not operable. Chemo. A permanent shunt in her lungs to drain the fluid that keeps on coming. Tom Baker next week. More answers then. A treatment plan by the end of the week.

 

What is hope looking like today?

 

Surprisingly, or not surprisingly, hope looks like it did that day with the school mom who reached out. It looks like my friends’ and family’s texts, emails and calls, saying just right things, or even just enough things. It looks like my parents’ life long friends praying together in a living room – 30 years of friendship praying for someone is extra potent, I would think. It looks like the weird coincidence of my brother’s new girlfriend transferring to the Tom Baker Cancer Centre three weeks earlier. She knows the doctors, she knows the treatments, she knows the system. Amazing.

 

Hope looks like people, carving out space within themselves for us, hoping for us, for our family and weaving another layer of what is true and good onto this world.

 

Surprisingly, or not surprisingly, hope is also looking like the ordinary stuff being caught in the flash of what is really real. Grocery shopping calmed me down and I was grateful for a bank account and produce. Brushing my girls hair grounded me and I saw them as good little creations. Hugging my mom and drinking tea calmed us all down. Walks in the sun on a frosty morning shine hope into us. Dinner together with my brother and trying to have a conversation amidst the insane levels of noise my two sweet babies make.   Normal, daily things that are life and affirm that we do, in fact, live a good one are seen with that flash of insight, that curtain pulled back, and we see them for the beauty and incredible abundance of what they are.

 

Big and heavy days lay ahead. We all know that. I know that I don’t even have any idea, not even a clue, of how actually hard it will be.  My mom feels held. She feels clear. Today, anyway. Isn’t that crazy? I don’t feel heavy. I am not worried. Today, anyway. Isn’t that crazy?

 

The girls don’t know much of the details of what’s going on but my 6 year old told me that it was ok that Christmas was going to be not as big this year (ha – it was going to be lean anyways!) She said she would just like to have dinner together and we could just wrap an old toy she barely remembered. My 3 year old told me to pray for Grandma (among her usual prayers for her best friends and upcoming dreams) tonight. When I was done, she asked if God could hear the prayer. I said yes. She said, Good.

 

I think of that verse about hope being the evidence of things not seen. That we still have hope in the face of the shatteredness of this world…..that is an incredible thing. Despite all the words I have just used, there is probably no way to get to the bottom of what and how Hope is. Maybe only in pictures, and then only a little bit. Its part of the mystery of God.

 

But I only have to open my eyes and I see the pictures, see where the pieces of this hope have been lain out. The evidence is in piles all around me….it seems. Pieces of fabric, flashes of light, people and their always renewing hearts, this earth and its always renewing life. All around me.   All around you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sapling in The Tree

—The following was a reflection I wrote for a friend’s research group for her doctoral studies on how the Doctrine of Creation could inform our understanding of suffering and how we walk through suffering.  And because the group met during Advent, and because Advent is one of the best things ever, I thought about that too.   This is a reflection and a personal response and doesn’t totally represent the fullness of what she taught us. Luckily, there’s always more blogposts! —

 

What story do I live out of?  I have the words of my friend Ann running through my head a lot lately. Do I live out of the story that says I must fear – fear evil, fear people who are different, fear scarcity, fear constant and debilitating effort? Do I live out of a story that says things will never change because they never have? What is the story I am living out of?

It is advent so we are sitting, waiting, in a familiar story. The story with words thrown around like hope, and joy, and love, and peace.   Those are wonderful themes….but honestly they aren’t doing enough in their glittery presence on every cushion or candle or random piece of reclaimed pallet wood. Ok, that sounded a bit judgy but there is a temptation, for me at least, to let the ease of these words keep us above the actual story a bit too much sometimes.

 

And the story we are waiting for is…..

…Is one of generations of hard, harsh, prophets standing way out in left field trying to get us to see. The story is one of revelation – to a little girl, from a no name town, a forgotton lineage. The story is one of a dark, dirty birth, blood on an unfamiliar floor. And from there it goes.

The Story grew, a baby into a child, into a man. He grew within us, within his people, like a sapling inside a huge hollow tree; with his young mother – being taught by her, being taught by her husband, his uncles, his grandmas, his siblings. And He taught them too, like all children do. He laughed with them. He disagreed with them. He worked with them, heard about the prophets, the psalms, the Fathers with them. He studied Torah with them. He heard and discussed the Romans, the nobility, the occupation with them. And he did this while increasingly understanding, or maybe remembering, THE STORY that he lived out of, the story He started, the story He finished.

 

We talk about the Word made Flesh. We talk about the God who is With Us. And this is it. We believe that Jesus of Nazareth, in his peculiarity, his particularity, his own personality quirks, his own scars on his hands or face or shins from a life walking on this earth, was The Very God Who Created Everything.   The Very God now intimately intertwined with this world. I keep wanting to get to know this Jesus. And it has changed my story from one that kept me above this world, apart from it, to one that plunged me down into its realness, fullness, emptiness and physical, graspable promise of presence.

 

To understand the story, we have to take this Word made Flesh and remember it back to the beginning. To say Jesus was at the creation of the world is to say that the part of God that reaches out to us in our very real, very physical spaces in order to be with us, to walk with us, is the part of God that desired that at the start and desired that in that dusty armpit of the world and desires it with us now. His intention was to be WITH US– as we ate, as we explored, as we learned, as we slept, as we made love, as we awoke and took our food again. This is still his intention.

 

And now, even now, when the world lives out its multitude of stories, and we are broken down by them, He invites us to that with-us Story. You know the one where he wants to walk beside us, even in our darkness, even in our own guilt, complicity. Even when we are not winning, not succeeding, not fulfilling. Even when we are not hoping at all anymore. When we are so alone we can barely find room for a breath, let alone see out of it to where we think the promises have to be. There He is. In the place of no breath, in the place of our inability. Because that is what He desires more than anything else. More than praise, more than worship. He desires us to know Him there. He desires us to start reading the Story there, in that place of His intimate presence.

 

And I can’t help but wonder at how the story opens up our eyes, and our ears, and we start to see flashes and glimpses of the expansiveness of Him, how we start to…….remember nothing less than deep, vibrant hope of life with Him- even in these, our own smudged and broken details.