The tragic gap: On being an Advent and Lent people

January 30th, 2015

This article was originally published at Inspire to Conspire. Used with permission. 

Currently, we’re in the season of Epiphany. When I think of Epiphany, images of flashing light come to mind, of the glory of the Lord shining around the Magi, of the incarnation, and of the Fulfilling Hope coming into our midst. It should be a season of brightness; better yet, it should be a season of epiphanies, of coming to realize that which was already in front of you. Justice. Incarnation. Coming restoration. Hope. Love. Peace. Joy.

“When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.” — Matthew 2:10, NIV

Overjoyed. What a foreign idea. I don’t know about you, but these days I’m having an incredibly hard time finding joy anywhere. It’s been like this for months. With every rising news report, my heart gets more and more broken.

“Grand Jury Declines to Indict NYPD Officer in Chokehold Death of Eric Garner”

“Ferguson Cop Darren Wilson Will Not Be Charged for Killing Michael Brown, Grand Jury Decides”

“Already Three Black Trans Women Have Been Brutally Murdered in 2015

“Warren Hill Faces Execution Despite Numerous Claims He’s Intellectually Disabled”

“Nashville ‘Cold Patrols’ Seek Homeless On a Freezing Night”

There comes a point where I just stop logging onto social media because I know this is what I will see. My heart and mind can’t handle it anymore. With every invite I receive to endless protests and vigils, there comes a point where it all starts to blur together. No, Ms. Security Guard, I don’t know what we’re marching for right now–the only thing I know to do with myself is to show up. No, Mr. Cameraman, you shouldn’t ask me what our demands are. I don’t even know anymore. I can’t remember what I stand for. I can’t remember what I believe in. There comes a grief in my bones that becomes too much to carry. So, I stop going. I stop moving. I stop reading the articles. I stop engaging in conversation. I dread getting out of bed. I flee.

If I could flee far enough into the wilderness of these Tennessee hills, away from the city lights, I might see that star rising. The Star of Hope that always is rising, if only we would look up and see. But until then, my gaze is captured by the endless stream of bodies, of news reports, of marches, of organizing meetings. None of which I feel emotionally capable of tending to adequately. But it’s like watching a train crash — you can’t look away.

Doubts 2 / Photo courtesy John Kraus via Flickr

Recently, I saw the film "Selma." While the film gave me some energy in my exhaustion, I most identified with this line that Coretta says in an argument with Martin:

“What I have never gotten used to is the death. The constant closeness with death. It’s like a fog. I can’t see life because of the constant fog of death hanging over us.”

I have sat through dozens of sermons on Easter Sunday where the pastor exhorts, “We are an Easter people!” This notion of having our identity and experience embedded in the reality/metaphor of the resurrection, of living as if every day were Easter…honestly, most days it feels really fake and distant to me. For times like these, Easter is very far off. And I am trapped between Advent — the season of waiting — and Lent — the season of uncertainty. More often than not, the reality I see in the world is that of Advent and Lent. We cling to hope, because most days we cannot, cannot, cannot see any other. It’s fabulous that later on in the season there will be an empty tomb, but right now, all I know is the cold wilderness of waiting, with Herod trying to kill my children, with many miles to go before I inevitably won’t find a room in the inn, and up next on the agenda is ashes, fasting, repentance, and forty more days of — guess what? — wilderness!

This is the “tragic gap”* in which we stand. We’ve got one foot next to the manger, one foot next to the empty tomb, and the rest of us is somewhere in between — in the stretch of waiting, uncertainty, ordinary time. 

It takes courage to stand in the tragic gap, to bear this weight on our shoulders like a cross. The weight of suffering. The weight of seeing the empty tomb firsthand, and noticing it seems farther away from us than in moments past. The weight of being present in this struggle instead of solely keeping our hearts and minds in the liturgical calendar and scriptural stories, even. The weight of juggling the already and the not yet.

I’m struggling with this tragic gap, and I don’t think I will ever stop struggling. In the meantime, I will get out of bed and I will join with others. We will go to the meetings, we will go to the marches, we will engage in the hard conversations, we will confront death. We will stand in the tragic gap. We are the Advent people. We are the Lent people. We will support each other in this wilderness.

Parker Palmer discusses the "tragic gap."

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