I pulled up to my daughter’s elementary school one unforgettable Friday afternoon, two years ago. Like many parents, I was there waiting for her, earlier than usual, and all I wanted to do was put my arms around my child and feel her safeness near me. Earlier that day, parents in Newtown, Connecticut and all around the country had dropped their young ones off in carpool lanes and at bus-stops. Some of those parents would never have that same chance for a Friday afternoon pick-up. I understood that Friday afternoon just how lucky and privileged I was to hug my child. Parents around the country felt the same way.
That hug…that moment when her carefree innocence met my parental urge to protect wrapped in the gut-wrenching realization that I could not…that moment was pure, human experience.
I know…it isn’t the kind of experience any of us like to think about. I was thinking about that experience today, though, as I meditated on this advent word. At least 145 human lives felt the gut-wrenching reality of that human experience directly today. The difference, though, is stunning. Two years ago, my Facebook wall was filled with admonitions to hug our children, parents debating keeping the news from their children of various ages, and others finding ways to discuss tragedy with their teens. The tragic shootings at Sandy Hook elementary rocked the lives of families across the a United States. It filled our thoughts, and fueled collective grief. Some reacted with sympathy, some with advocacy, others with confusion. All real experiences. My experience of and response to that tragic event was a catalyst in my own vocational journey, too. I have been writing that story lately as I describe the events in my heart and soul that prompted me to serve the world…and the Church…in new and different ways.
I logged on to my social media tonight, I suppose expecting to see and be with other people sharing experience. A few of my friends were sharing authentic emotional experience to tragedy, and I appreciated their reflections. What stunned me is that the “trending” social media was nothing to do with global tragedy. It was actually the story of literal bull-shit sold by the “cards against humanity” makers. Really? That is the most important and popular story today?
I had another human experience: Anger. Frustration. Disappointment.
I wonder sometimes why we fail to experience. We want happiness without sadness, life without loss. To experience life is to feel its precious, impermanent qualities and yet love it anyhow. So, we escape instead of experiencing. Then, I remember why we fail to experience: vulnerability is hard work.
This advent, we are challenged to open to the experience of human living. In our Christian narrative, this is how God shows up incarnate: a vulnerable infant, improbable surroundings, powerful rulers and authority figures seeking to destroy life that feels threatening to the status quo, a life of longing, a life of love, miracles, denials, followers, deserters.
This, God knows, is experience. And it is to this experience that God arrives, fully.
May those whose experience this night is pain, loss, confusion, grief, fear, overwhelm…as well as those who experience hope, relief, service, advocacy, survival…know in the quiet depths of their souls that it is for this experience of human living that God has shown up, and resides with us in our midst.
Even now, even tonight. In Pakistan and Ferguson. In Sandy Hook and our own vulnerable lives. God is here, with us, in the depths and heights of this experience of being human.