- Jean Zaru, ed. Helene Pollock
1st Week of Advent: Surprised by God
The Light Shining in the Darkness, that Cannot be Overcome
Isaiah 2:1-5, Psalm 122, Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 24:36-44
This Sunday’s lectionary texts surprise us with a vision of peace that breaks in, disrupting business as usual. Isaiah’s rousing vision of nations streaming to God’s mountain is jolting with its graphic images of the ways in which the ancient war machine will be decisively overcome. God’s enactment of justice will catch us unawares.
In our daily lives as Palestinians, to be truth-tellers means that we are necessarily engaged in acts of individual and communal lament. We look to the ancient prophets who used grief as a critique to galvanize people, who used grief as a pathway to newness of life and to make a commitment to work for justice and peace.
Our public voicing of pain is an intentional, often communal act of expressing grief. It may sometimes go unheard, and it always includes risk. Nonetheless it remains crucial, for with the cry of pain begins the formation of a counter community around an alternative perception of reality. Thus, the act of crying out and groaning in grief is at once an act of subversion and an act of hope.
This alternative perception that guides us is a culture of life. We perceive, imagine and then build a culture of life in the face of death. And God breaks through to us in our experience. As this week’s texts remind us, God’s promise is for even greater breakthroughs. Therefore, we can expect to be continually surprised.
Some time ago when there was open access to Jerusalem, I visited my aunt and afterwards caught the return bus to Ramallah. The Israeli army searched all the passengers, as well as the bus itself. Two young people were taken aside and detained. The soldiers asked the driver to go on, but the passengers refused to leave until they organized for one of them to stay behind to convey information to the families of the detained. Another person volunteered to take their possessions from the bus to their families.
The compassionate care they offered is expected in our culture, but was nonetheless surprising in contrast to the oppressive system we are forced to live under every day. Thus, this incident was both an expected and unexpected sign of the culture of life.
By now it was late; I was tired and my blood pressure was rising. I fell asleep on the bus. As we neared Ramallah, the young man sitting next to me said “Yamma” which is “mother” in Arabic: “Yamma, wake up, we are here at the last stop.” He very kindly volunteered to call a taxi and accompany me home.
This is one of the many stories that illustrate the humanity and beauty of character which I experience daily despite the suffering and the violent systems pressing down upon us. When I lament and cry out, “Where is God, in the midst of all this suffering?”, I take a moment to reflect and the answer never fails to encourage me.
In your experience, what are some sources of resistance or interference to “the culture of life”? How is it like or unlike Paul’s reference to “the flesh” in Romans 13:11-14?
When have you been surprised by God?