The Third Light of Advent
In her startling poem, There She Is, Linda Gregg tells about entering a garden where she or the reader finds a specter. The ghost is holding up a woman who has eaten off her own hands. She has done this as self-desecration because of overwhelming emotional pain.
This woman is not alone, but represents thousands upon thousands of people who harm themselves for whatever reason, by cutting, regurgitation, drinking or drugs, prostitution, not to mention the more subtle means of over-exercise, over-work, over anything. You name it.
Who in this world has not at some point sunk into self-loathing or excessive angst or anxiety? Who has not engaged in less tangible forms of unhealthy emotional response, perhaps by anger and lashing out against others. Grief, loss, rejection, suffering, and even betrayal. All lead into the darkness of winter, the dark and long days of Advent.
When my wife, Laura, died years ago, I spent not months but years walking through grief, as do so many people who lose a spouse or a child. (Smart therapists or priests or friends will point out that your grief will be lifelong, though it will morph peculiarly into hope.) Not just grief, but I have experienced betrayal, and rejection, and suffered in ways that should not have been my lot. Sometimes, I have responded badly by lashing out in response.
I am no less than I am, more human than I’d like to be. And I, too, wonder why God – if it is God at all – cycles me through the wilderness as though I require or deserve some sort of Lenten-tainted life. To change me? To remind me of my humanity? To teach me to love others? Sometimes – sometimes – it feels like more than I need and far more than I deserve.
I am no less than I am, and in so many ways blessed far more than I deserve. For, you see, in the midst of each cycle of grief appears this tiny light of grace …
A light like the image I once read about in a poem composed by some writer whose name I cannot recall. (My apologies) The image is of a man walking backwards at night away from a candle in the window of a forest cabin. There is a certain point at which the man takes one another step backwards and the light disappears. Then he takes one step forward, and the light reappears. The line of grace, it seems, is just there, and I know – I just know – that the grace of God abides along that line so close, always close to me, always just one more step through the darkness.
Which is, it seems where Linda Gregg takes us. For the woman who has scandalously eaten her own hands because of her pain – is, at the end of it all – located in paradise. I, as reader, cannot turn away from the horror, I find myself within Gregg’s words, for I, too, must face the woman. I cannot kill her (pretend she doesn’t exist). I must – I absolutely must – look at her pain. I must look at her pain because hers is my pain, too. I must look at my own pain.
And if paradise is paradise, she must be there, which means, I must be there with her. As Gregg concludes, My God, I think, if paradise is to be here (the garden), it will have to include her.
The third light of Advent.