This week we’re counting down the last days of Advent, moving closer to Christmas. The entire year has flown by, and Advent has vanished almost before I could take a breath. (My mother told me this would happen as I aged.) One thing I have noticed especially during this 2013 advent season: how many things move me to tears. Stories, songs, movies, books, poetry – they all choke me up.
There has been a little video on Facebook for the last few days, a flashmob organized by Woolworth’s of all places, in South Africa. It begins with shoppers in a Woolworth’s going about their business, and then some of the “staff” (actually members of the Soweto Gospel Choir) break into song. They are singing “Asimbonanga”, a freedom song about Mandela, in honor of his life and death. The shoppers stop, listen, take photos, some wipe away tears – and many of them are white. It is a lovely sequence, and I tear up every time I see it. And then I ask myself: am I really crying over an event organized by Woolworth’s, probably with at least one eye on the profit margin?
It’s true, I am. Also dog rescue stories, stories of forgiveness, reunions, freedom songs, peace songs, Dr. King’s speeches, readings from Isaiah – I’ve become a veritable fountain these days. And I think it has something to do with Advent.
Advent is the season of hope and longing. “How long, o Lord? Look at what’s happening here! When will you come?” “I believe that I shall see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living!” But when?
These tears come, I think, when there is an intimation of the kindom. Advent tears are tears of longing for the love and justice that we know are possible. Advent tears are not necessarily connected to politics or artistic merit. They come from a deeper place, a place where we know that we are destined for love and kindness, not for hatred and fear. They come when we recognize what we long for. I remember how, after a long separation from my children when they were small, the tears welled up as I hugged them at our reunion. Advent tears are tears of joy, but with sorrow mixed in, knowing that each recognition of the kindom will pass. We have not arrived yet. We only see from afar.
Advent tears don’t end with the season of Advent. They appear throughout the year, as the kindom is manifested. They are not to be confused with Lenten tears, tears of grief and anger – the tears that arise when we hear about another wedding decimated by drones, or another Trayvon Martin killing. Lenten tears spur us to action. Repent, change, don’t let this happen again! Advent tears call us home.
When we have repented, when we have changed, this is what the world will feel like, all the time: this gesture of caring, this song of love and pride, this reconciliation, this beauty and love: pay attention to your Advent tears so you’ll recognize home when we get there.
Shelley Douglass is a Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace. She is the hospitaller at Mary’s House Catholic Worker in Birmingham, a member of Holy Family Parish, and active especially against war and the death penalty.