My spiritual director recently recommended the Starbridge series of novels by Susan Howatch. They are about clergy that come up against some sort of crisis they have to work through. The books contain theology and inspiration, and also are somewhat tawdry in places. So like life, basically. The most recent one I read is Absolute Truths. It has a phrase from scripture that runs through it, "All things work together for good for them that love God." (Romans 8:28). This can be particularly difficult to believe at such a point in time. What to make of it?
At one point a character in the book points out that a better translation is "All things intermingle for good for them that love God." The good doesn't redeem or end the bad - as though the two are mixed together like cake batter and the good flavor wins out. Howatch writes, "the good and the bad remain quite distinct.... The bad is really terrible and the good may seem powerless against that terrible reality....." The characters go on to explain that when the good and the bad intermingle (not merge) they form a pattern. Howatch writes, "The darkness doesn't become less dark, but that pattern which the light makes upon it contains the meaning which makes the darkness endurable."
Where is the good today? I see it in all those who are helping those parents and families in their time of intense grief, the security guards, the police, the mental health workers, the school psychologists, the clergy, the parents, the children, the teachers in Newtown. I see it in all those doing whatever they can to prevent such a thing from happening again. Without that help, the pain would be unendurable but it is there. It is there in all those who are working for peace against all the odds in war-torn places in the world. It is between and in and even among us. It is advent, and so we sing, "O come, o come Emmanuel," which means God is with us. O Come, be with us in our time of pain, sorrow, grief, and anger. Help us lift up our souls. Show us the way out of this.
Years ago at this time of year I wrote this poem which somehow seems to me like an advent poem.
Truth is a Wanderer by Tess Baumberger
Truth is a wanderer disguised as something else entirely.
A tall man walks a narrow path,
muddy in the rain beneath his feet,
and red, a sign of clay in the soil,
against the hills around him green.
He carries a long stick which he, weary, leans upon at times.
He wears gray clothes tattered
like the clouds above the hills.
The wind worries them as thoughts concern his brow.
A hat encloses his head
like a child full of sleep.
He walks with love, and the aging glow of trying,
trying to love the Earth
which momentarily embraces
each foot as it lands.
His shoes bear the evidence.
He has in him a king but his kingliness is a dowdy gift,
dressed in rags and wandering,
a hat his only crown,
a ragged cloak his robe,
a wooden stick his scepter,
his ponderous domain
drawing down his shoulders.
Courage shares a lexicon with grief.
May we somehow lift our souls so they can move. May their good direction become clear.