A week ago (was it just a week ago?!?), I led a joy-filled and noisy “Review-of-the-Year” service of scripture and hymns while my colleague was on vacation. We did it on Advent 1 instead of Christ the King because we had a guest speaker on CtK and my colleague was on vacation on Advent 1.
Then, on Wednesday, as we tried to begin to implement (it’s been a tough Autumn) our overall Advent theme (a So-Cal Advent/Christmas/Epiphany with Latino/a traditions celebrating who we are in this time and place) we started getting word of the mass shootings across town, half a mile on one side from my kids’ school and on the other from my spouse’s workplace.
So work was pretty much a loss on Wednesday. We already had a Longest Night/Blue Christmas type service planned for Thursday evening. The best we did on Wednesday was make noise about how we might adjust that service in light of events. It didn’t need to be adjusted much. There is always grief in the world. This was just closer to home.
I got a voxer message from the UK and calls from Tennessee and Boston as well as dozens of Facebook messages (I imagine when Facebook offers me my “most liked” status of the year, it will be one of the ones I posted on Wednesday. People “most liked” the status that your family was safe.) There was an undeniable feeling of being loved and being held that day.
Thursday morning I taught my classes at the local Cal State. It was a surreal experience. Cal State is far away from what happened, but everyone gets the emails. And my students’ children had been on lockdown just as mine had. We shared our stories as we moved in to our final business before finals week. I was sure (hoping?) at that point that it was a disgruntled worker and not terrorism. My students thought it was terrorism. And I was wrong and they were right.
We have a developmentally disabled woman in our congregation who works at the Inland Regional Center. Her parents were on a cruise, and it took us hours to learn that she was okay, and her brother was waiting to pick her up as soon as it was allowed. On Thursday night, her brother brought her to the Longest Night service, and it was at the moment that we saw the two of them together, walking in to the sanctuary, that–I learned later–several of us lost it completely.
5 years ago I went to my first Longest Night service. My cousin I grew up with was dying of leukemia. He was on hospice care at that point. I wept and wept and couldn’t stop weeping. Thursday night, when I saw this woman and her brother (who had been diagnosed with cancer and has reminded of my cousin, though he seems to be in remission. He’s had the same treatment as President Carter) came in, I began to weep like I had 5 years ago, but I knew I couldn’t give in to it. 5 years ago, I was just there. Thursday night, I was a leader. So I took a deep breath and I stood before the congregation and read the words printed on the page.
And that’s how this week has been. It has been strange. My colleague has been interviewed on 2 different radio shows and has another invitation. She seems to be the face of faith-based-San Bernardino, perhaps because the former mayor recommended her and perhaps because she was featured in the video, Broken San Bernardino. We have moved forward with our plans for the year, adjusting as we do so, as we can.
On Sunday we invited everyone to bring what we can, even when we feel empty-handed. We are the light shining in the darkness. How can we be that light? How do we put action to our prayers.
And so we wait and we watch and we pray and we remember Advent in a way we may never have before. Advent is somber. So are we.