This last Wednesday I led the weekly Eucharist at Waterloo Lutheran Seminary. At this service, we look to the coming Sunday for texts etc. That meant that this last Wednesday was the celebration of Advent One. But during the year, we also are attentive to other significant temporal markers, and so noted that November 29 is the annual UN International Day of Solidarity with Palestinians. Our worship team decided to attend to both of these, which was no easy task.
I have never been to the Holy Land, and cannot pretend to know what is happening on the ground in that conflicted and troubled land, but I do know that there are two irreducibly painful truths that cannot be denied as we look east: the Shoah and the Nakba. The first references the attempted genocide of the Jewish people by the Nazi regime, resulting in the deaths of some six million Jews. The second references the uprooting of 700, 000 Palestinians during the 1948 conflict following the UN partition of Palestine in 1947, resulting in some seven million Palestinian refugees today.
We choose to frame our service with the song “Between Darkness and Light,” which was composed by Palestinian Manal Hreib and Israeli Daphna Rosenberg, two musicians committed to the pathway to peace in the Holy Land. This song sings into the ambiguity of hard truths. It speaks to hope in light of the many forms of brokenness we endure. Our preacher, Preston Parsons, spoke to this brokenness in the land of promise, even while reminding us that the land in our own context cries out at the history of dispossession and abuse of its first peoples. And so, he invited us to pray for peace in our own context as well, and to be attentive to the Prince of Peace who transforms us so that we might abandon our warring ways.
We framed the service with the lighting of the first Advent candle at the start of the service while singing “Between Darkness and Light,” and extinguishing this candle while singing the song again at the end of the service. We wanted the service to flow between these two realities of a lit and unlit Advent wreath: worship between darkness and light. During the last singing of the song, after Sarah, one of our undergraduate students, extinguished the candle, I looked up at it and noticed that the candle’s flame was very luxurious in its dying. A slow persistent stream of silver slid up from the wick. This was marked in that it was set against a blue curtain at the end of our worship space in the basement of St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Church. This sliver of smoke swayed now to the left, and then to the right, and slowly accumulated in a little cloud above the candle. When the candle finally died, it was as if the last of the smoke was a rope being pulled up into the cloud, which then mystically dissipated. I am not sure what meaning to make of this image, or if a meaning is need. It was simply beauty, and set against the music it reminded me of the ambiguity and transience of life, even while persistent and enduring in its beauty. I don’t think that I will ever forget that image. So ordinary, but profound in the moment. Advent, for me, this year began four days early when Sarah put out a candle, but lit a flame.