I began this poem in the margins of my church bulletin last Sunday. Our prayer request time had been (not unusually) raw and real, with brave people daring to admit that they weren’t doing “fine, thank you.” It’s amazing how this honesty spreads across the sanctuary. After we cried together, prayed together, and stood together to sing; something changed. I don’t know how to describe it exactly, but the closest I can come is to say that Joy seeped in through our cracked walls.
As words came, so did tears.
Tears like rivers, slowly cutting through bedrock.
Rivers carving out channels where there weren’t channels before.
we were swept downstream
There in a jumbled heap
we looked at one another again, no,
we looked for the first time that morning
and saw the eyes of grown-ups
who were barely hanging on.
What do you do,
we whispered to someone listening,
when you are counting for Christmas to be over?
What if the missing is just too much
and each twinkling light stings?
What do you do if this was not the plan?
Tissue boxes arrived,
we passed them around,
but still we sat, breathing together.
Now we were waiting,
hands resting on the backs of our neighbors,
we were waiting for hope to come.
Hope does not come with happiness.
We knew it. Happiness is too thin.
Hope needs friction, not fa la la la la.
Tensile strength, not tinsel.
We needed a Christmas strong enough
to bear this sorrow.
And it was given.
It was given the moment we stopped grasping, and
with hands on backs and true words spoken aloud,
we received it.
We were surprised.
The hope came through joy.
We stood to sing.
Joy to the world.
Joy to the messed up real world.
Joy, which is not candy,
I am indebted to the author and anti-sex-trafficking advocate Christine Caine for this metaphor: “Joy is not ‘imitation happiness’. If happiness is like candy, then Joy is medicine.” I have been thinking about this phrase since I read it in her painful and hopeful book, Undaunted, and I am grateful for her hard-won wisdom.