advent apertures 2019: Sunday 4

Joy Unspeakable
is not silent,
it moans, hums, and bends
to the rhythm of a dancing universe.
It is a fractal of transcendent hope,
a hologram of God’s heart,
a black hole of unknowing.

For our free African ancestors,
joy unspeakable is drum talk
that invites the spirits
to dance with us,
and tell tall tales by the fire.

For the desert Mothers and Fathers,
joy unspeakable is respite
from the maddening crowds,
And freedom from
“church” as usual.

For enslaved Africans during the
Middle Passage,
joy unspeakable is the surprise
of living one more day,
and the freeing embrace of death
chosen and imposed.

For Africans in bondage
in the Americas,
joy unspeakable is that moment of
mystical encounter
when God tiptoes into the hush arbor,
testifies about Divine suffering,
and whispers in our ears,
“Don’t forget,
I taught you how to fly
on a wing and a prayer,
when you’re ready
let’s go!”

Joy Unspeakable is humming
“how I got over”
after swimming safely
to the other shore of a swollen Ohio river
when you know that you can’t swim.
It is the blessed assurance
that Canada is far,
but not that far.

For Africana members of the
“invisible institution,” the
emerging black church,
joy unspeakable is
practicing freedom
while chains still chafe,
singing deliverance
while Jim Crow stalks,
trusting God’s healing
and home remedies,
prayers, kerosene,
and cow patty tea.

For the tap dancing, boogie woogie,
rap/rock/blues griots
who also hear God,
joy unspeakable is
that space/time/joy continuum thing
that dares us to play and pray
in the interstices of life,
it is the belief that the phrase
“the art of living”
means exactly what it says.

             Joy Unspeakable
is
both FIRE AND CLOUD,
the unlikely merger of
trance and high tech lives
ecstatic songs and a jazz repertoire
Joy unspeakable is
a symphony of incongruities
of faces aglow and hearts
on fire
and the wonder of surviving together.

from Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church, xvii-xviii.

Barbara A. Holmes

 

‘how can this be?’

 

Gabriel greeted her:

Good morning!

You’re beautiful with God’s beauty,

Beautiful inside and out!

God be with you.

She was thoroughly shaken, wondering what was behind a greeting like that. But the angel assured her, “Mary, you have nothing to fear. God has a surprise for you …

Nothing, you see, is impossible with God.” …

And Mary said,

I’m bursting with God-news;

    I’m dancing the song of my Savior God.

God took one good look at me, and look what happened—

    I’m the most fortunate woman on earth!

What God has done for me will never be forgotten,

    the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others…

(Luke 1: 28-9, 36, 46-7. The Message)

When I ask the question, “how can this be?”, to whom am I addressing it?  For as the dialogue between Mary and Gabriel shows, my question is really directly addressed to God.  I have a choice about how to respond to this holy visitation, for all this is about my very relationship with God: can I really believe I am Your chosen vehicle to do this great thing of bringing You into the world?

Will I choose to believe that the God who enters into the fabric of my reality is coming to be Emmanuel, to be ‘God with me’?

“How can this be?”  This question gets personal.  The Emmanuel who chooses to reside within me, as well as all around me, answers me with a question in return: “Can you burst with my ‘God-news’ today?”

And what if, in response to my hesitations and my stunned silences, my turnings away and my petrified terror, God keeps coming, repeating over and again, “Nothing is impossible with ME”? 

Can I, will I, let myself be caught up in this vision imparted by the Spirit hovering over me?  Can I, will I, decide once and for all to encircle my life from here on in with an attitude of Praise and excitement? 

(Listen to this soaring version of Mary’s song: Voces8 sing ‘Magnificat Primi Toni’ by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina – perhaps whilst reading the poem below.)


This Advent moon shines cold and clear,
These Advent nights are long;
Our lamps have burned year after year,
And still their flame is strong.

“Watchman, what of the night?” we cry,
Heart-sick with hope deferred:
“No speaking signs are in the sky,”
Is still the watchman’s word.

The Porter watches at the gate,
The servants watch within;
The watch is long betimes and late,
The prize is slow to win.

“Watchman, what of the night?” but still
His answer sounds the same:
“No daybreak tops the utmost hill,
Nor pale our lamps of flame.”

One to another hear them speak,
The patient virgins wise:
“Surely He is not far to seek,”—
“All night we watch and rise.”

“The days are evil looking back,
The coming days are dim;
Yet count we not His promise slack,
But watch and wait for Him.”

One with another, soul with soul,
They kindle fire from fire:
“Friends watch us who have touched the goal.”
“They urge us, come up higher.”

“With them shall rest our waysore feet,
With them is built our home,
With Christ.” “They sweet, but He most sweet,
Sweeter than honeycomb.”

There no more parting, no more pain,
The distant ones brought near,
The lost so long are found again,
Long lost but longer dear:

Eye hath not seen, ear hath not heard,
Nor heart conceived that rest,
With them our good things long deferred,
With Jesus Christ our Best.

We weep because the night is long,
We laugh, for day shall rise,
We sing a slow contented song
And knock at Paradise.

Weeping we hold Him fast Who wept
For us,—we hold Him fast;
And will not let Him go except
He bless us first or last.

Weeping we hold Him fast to-night;
We will not let Him go
Till daybreak smite our wearied sight,
And summer smite the snow:

Then figs shall bud, and dove with dove
Shall coo the livelong day;
Then He shall say, “Arise, My love,
My fair one, come away.”

‘Advent’

Christina Rossetti

visitation (bl)visitation. Canon 7D. f2.8. 1/250. ISO 400.

Published by Kate Kennington Steer

writer, photographer and visual artist

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