Advent Reflections – Falling

On Thursday night I fell. It was dark, wet, and my arms were full of bags. I had been in downtown Boston for a meeting, and I was so ready to be home. Parking was difficult, but I finally found space a couple of blocks down the hill. I had almost reached home when I lost my footing and splat – down I went.

I spontaneously cried out but there was no one to hear me. I was shaking badly as I tried to get up. My whole body ached. I knew my left knee was hit the worst as it took the brunt of the fall. Tears began to fall as I finally regained my balance and began trying to pick things up from the ground. Little chocolate stars with white dots were strewn all over the ground, the leftovers of a beautiful afternoon tea at my daughter’s house shining in the light of a gas lamp. It felt like they were mocking me “See – just a couple of hours ago you were having a wonderful time, but it doesn’t last. It will never last.”

I finally pulled everything together and limped my way to my door. Sniffling, I walked into warmth, light, and a husband who was deeply concerned for my wellbeing.

The tears continued to fall. I felt like all the pain in the world was wrapped up in that one fall. All the displaced suffering that I know exists around the world. All the extended family struggle and pain, death and betrayal that has been a part of our family for the past couple of years was in that fall. All the difficult nights and angry days were represented in my bleeding hands and knee. I cried and I cried.

We are all just one fall away – one fall away from tragedy; one fall away from illness; one fall away from a life changing event. No one goes to work on a Monday morning expecting to fall, or to die, or to hear that someone else died. Yet, every single day people go through events that change their lives.

One Fall Away

In truth, my fall on Thursday night was not life changing. Though my knee has turned all shades of pretty colors, I didn’t break it. I skinned my hands, but they will heal with minimal scarring. I bruised my body, and it brought me to my bruised heart and soul. And that’s why I cried and cried. That’s why my tears fell. They were my expression of looking to God for comfort, looking to God for healing.

In the classic book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, author Eugene Peterson talks about the honest expression of suffering found in the Psalms. The model in the Psalms is far removed from the platitudes of comfort that are often offered to us by friends and acquaintances. Instead of telling us to get up and dust ourselves off, the Psalmist cries out against all the pain, suffering, and evil in the world. The Psalmist cries out in agony asking God why he has left him. It is a tremendous comfort and challenge to me that we have this model. The Psalmist doesn’t look at God as someone who will scold him and tell him to try harder. Instead, the Psalmist begins in pain.

Help God – the bottom has fallen out of my life!….By setting the anguish out into the open and voicing it as a prayer, the psalm gives dignity to our suffering. It does not look on suffering as something slightly embarrassing that must be hushed up and locked in a closet (where it finally becomes a skeleton) because this sort of thing shouldn’t happen to a real person of faith. And it doesn’t treat it as a puzzle that must be explained, and therefore turn it over to theologians or philosophers to work out an answer. Suffering is set squarely, openly, passionately before God. It is acknowledged and expressed. It is described and lived

Eugene Peterson – Psalm 130 in A Long Obedience in the Same Direction

I don’t know what is going on in your lives right now. That is the reality of writing publicly. But I know that Advent, the time of waiting, can give rise to hard emotions. I know that when all around looks shiny with bright lights and sparkles, the things that are hard seem magnified. And that’s why we have those beautiful Psalms. They invite us into honest dialogue with a God who loves us so much. They allow us to cry out to a God that hears, that sees, and that dignifies our suffering by allowing us to express it. And when it’s all cried out, written or voiced in lament, we end in the same hope that the Psalmist did.

I wait for the Lord
    more than watchmen wait for the morning,
    more than watchmen wait for the morning.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
    for with the Lord is unfailing love
    and with him is full redemption.*

*Psalm 130: 6-7

[Photo by Filip Mroz on Unsplash]

One thought on “Advent Reflections – Falling

  1. Dear Marilyn, I’m so sorry for your injury – glad it was not worse, and glad you can turn even an injury into a resonant reflection on the experience of suffering and lament.

    I first read Peterson’s book you referenced when I was 25 and loved it. I’m now 62 and, of course, it means so much more with age. Also, becoming Orthodox 10 years ago brings those Psalms of Ascent to a whole new level as we sing them over and over during Lent! I’ve started reading your Reluctant Orthodox series. You were ahead of me, so it’s interesting to see how your heart has changed. I have a very different experience in that I’m the only one in my family who is Orthodox. My husband and I were at a conservative Presbyterian (PCA) church for 25 years, and when our kids left home, he became Episcopal and I Orthodox. We’re very supportive of each other’s journeys, but it does feel lonely sometimes. And over the years, after being an uber zealous convert (read: obnoxious), I sometimes feel a love/hate relationship with the church. I try to tell myself, “Patience, Grasshopper.”

    Thank you for writing and enriching my Advent. Hope you are not uncomfortable today with aches and pains! April Ragan

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