Advent Day 11 - A reflection

A friend at St. Mark's sent me a copy of this the first Christmas I was on my own, after 33 years of married Christmases. It is written by Jan Richardson, an artist, writer, and ordained minister in the United Methodist Church whose husband died suddenly in 2013.   The words never fail to move me

Reading from the Gospels, Advent 4, Year A: Matthew 1.18-25

It’s a question that has pressed on me since Gary’s death. How do we say yes to a life we did not choose? Every morning I wake into a world I did not count on. Every day I have to figure out how to enter this life that has presented itself to me, so altered from what Gary and I had imagined.

The year I married Gary, I wrote a reflection about Joseph (Advent 4: The Annunciation to Joseph). I wrote about falling in love with a man who had a son, about choosing this son and this life, about loving this life I had not envisioned.

Now the story of Joseph comes around again—the story of this man who, in listening to his dreaming, learned to say yes to the life he had not expected. And his story compels me to ask myself again, now on this side of Gary’s dying, How do we say yes to a life we did not choose?

This yes is not something we can always summon on our own. It is not a response we can manufacture by our own strength of will. This yes depends on a constellation of gifts. Some of those gifts are ones we need to learn to ask for. Some of those gifts will find us without our even knowing we needed them.

I love how in Joseph’s dreaming, the angel comes not only with a compelling invitation, an annunciation designed especially for him, but also with a needed gift. Do not be afraid, the angel tells him. These are the same words the angel Gabriel told Mary in her own annunciation. Do not be afraid. In asking Joseph to say yes to what might seem an impossible life, the angel does not leave him to his own devices. Do not be afraid, the angel tells the dreaming man.

The angel comes bearing the gift of courage to Joseph. Courage to say yes to the life he had not envisioned. Courage to keep saying yes to this woman, this child, this God, this path that will take him far beyond anything he has ever imagined for himself. Courage that will keep coming as gift, as dream, as blessing for his way.

On this Advent day, how are you being invited to say yes to a life you did not choose? What fear do you need to let go of in order to offer this yes? How might it be to ask for the courage you need, and to open yourself to the ways this courage wants to meet you in your waking, your dreaming?

Blessing of Courage
I cannot say
where it lives,
only that it comes
to the heart
that is open,
to the heart
that asks,
to the heart
that does not turn away.
It can take practice,
days of tugging at
what keeps us bound,
seasons of pushing against
what keeps our dreaming
small.
When it arrives,
it might surprise you
by how quiet it is,
how it moves
with such grace
for possessing
such power.

But you will know it
by the strength
that rises from within you
to meet it,
by the release
of the knot
in the center of
your chest
that suddenly lets go.
You will recognize it
by how still
your fear becomes
as it loosens its grip,
perhaps never quite
leaving you,
but calmly turning
into joy
as you enter the life
that is finally
your own.

—Jan Richardson
from The Cure for Sorrow