And I’m not talking about ordinary struggle. “First world” problems, as my friend, Mike, calls them (when our already privileged luxuries do not work to our advantage): my giant SUV won’t start, I accidentally bought regular Coke instead of Diet Coke, and my mother-in-law is driving me crazy. But real struggle, from hunger so prevalent around the world to the loss of a close friend or family member.
In 2004 I wrote an essay that suggested Mary (the virgin one) was actually a rape victim. It was an experience that left her afraid and heartbroken and Joseph wary and undecided. She was so empty and lonely. For all intents and purposes, she was dying. And yet a warm, innocent infant grew inside her, a moving, kicking reminder that she was stronger than the sin that betrayed her. Mary carried the Light of the World through the most treacherous darkness. And out of that cruelty and violence, out of that helplessness, came Jesus. A conception that nearly killed her ended up saving us all.
Starvation is a timeless tragedy, killing people daily or creating long, intense suffering from which there is often no recovery. In those aching stomachs and malnourished bodies, there is emptiness the likes of a manger. An emptiness that must be a vessel for a savior.
My grandpa was one of my closest relationships and the first person I watched slowly break down into death. Even though I knew it was coming, I still cannot get the images of his last few days out of my head. People tell me that someday, I will be glad that I was there with him as he took his final breath. That moment torments me, though, and I fail to see any cause for “gladness”.
Based on my born-of-tragedy theology, I try to replace my nightmares with different visions. The hospice pastor that prayed with us before my grandpa’s body was taken away described a scene where Jesus ran, excitedly, to meet my grandpa and take him into the light. I imagine them embracing as old friends, laughing, and entering heaven together. I can hear Jesus saying, “I’ve been waiting for you, Gene, and your wife isn’t nearly as patient as me.” They laugh again. No longer disabled by his Parkinson’s and failing body, Grandpa can run to meet Chiemi, the love of his life. There is so much brightness in that vision.
I think, when Jesus ran to greet my Grandpa, that brief moment that he was in between the world of the living and the dead, he left a bulb of light behind for me to find. In my emptiness from losing my grandpa, Jesus left a seed of faith to birth at a later date.
This advent has been filled with grief and suffering, it seems. I have heard more of death than I have of life. But it is at this, the darkest of times, that the savior is reborn. Jesus does not come to us because of tragedy, but he is born from it, again and again.
That light Jesus planted for me, in my empty soul, back in March, is becoming more apparent. I find it filling me up, allowing me to grieve. And a religion and a faith that I dismissed over a year ago are finally returning to me.
In a small, joyful innocence, this baby savior, molded from disaster, brings me a bit of hope.