Advent and the Oakland Fire

Thirty six lives lost. Friends, family, neighbors, coworkers...beloved human beings. As I stood at the vigil Monday night, grieving with friends and neighbors who knew people in the fire, my soul ached. The frailty and preciousness of our lives impressed itself on our guts, and it hurt. We were all trying to make meaning of this...

"...we need to love each other now more than ever."

"...we need to remember their lives, passions, and personalities."

"...we need to make safety a priority."

"...we need to make affordable housing a priority." 

None of these meaning-making statements are wrong in any way, and we all grieve in our own way, in our own time. It did strike me with unusual clarity, however, how quickly I try in moments like these to move from grief to solutions, from being to understanding and then to doing. I hate being in the grief, so I cry out, "What can we do?!?" Not all of us grieve this way, but sometimes I do. Do you?

I've personally been searching for meaning in the season of Advent (the beginning of the Christian story leading up to Christmas), which is soaked in the waiting, longing, expectant, suffering hope of God coming to us in Jesus. In Advent, we feel acutely the agony of our world and we cry out, "God, please come! Please come, and set our world right!" 

In Advent, we remember God's first coming in Jesus. It was not the spectacular riding in on the clouds you might expect from the God of the universe. He came as a frail, precious baby born to poor parents of a marginalized class in a backwater town. He suffered the indescribable pain of a family member's death, taken before his time. He was exposed to the vulnerability of unanswered questions and the silence of God. His life ended painfully, too young, too soon. 

If we're honest, most of us don't expect or even want a God who comes like this. If we were going to make it up, we would have God's human form zap all of the other humans and make them loving, healthy people who no longer die, who no longer suffer. We don't expect or even want God to enter into the frailty, vulnerability, and despair we feel. We just want him to fix it. 

And yet he does enter in. His first coming to us was truly a coming to be with us. He came, in part, to take our pain into God's own heart--to let it be at the core of all Being.

And that, to me, was part of the grotesque beauty of the vigil. On Monday night, we let the pain be. We were together in heartbreak. The agony of our neighbors was our agony, and that was enough for now.