All images originally from The Guardian.
“Today my son goes to the heaven to have a new year with Jesus.” This news of the death of a dearly-loved child – shared in broken English with words inadequate to convey the weight of a lifetime of tears, of dull, aching grief, of a burden released but a new, heavier one picked up – a son gone too soon, before his time, to be buried by his mother.
And this one darkness reminds me of a thousand other darknesses recounted and buried deep. Stories of children afraid and alone, not protected by families or by systems – a pitch black tunnel whose end lies ever out of reach.
Yesterday I read my friend’s children their bedtime story, from the closing chapters of C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle. Everything in Narnia has been made new, but some seem unable to see it:
“But it isn’t dark, you poor stupid Dwarfs,” said Lucy. “Can’t you see? Look up! Look round! Can’t you see the sky and the trees and the flowers? Can’t you see me?”
~ C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle
The dwarfs are unable to recognise the beauty and joy and light which is all around them, instead seeing only darkness and things to find fault with.
I don’t want to be like that – I want to be aware of the beauty, to see God at work, to notice where the light is breaking through, to find the truth that ‘the Kingdom of God is already among you.’
But this message – this death – this news shared with me and the group of Middle Eastern children’s workers brought together for the first time last November, united by their shared passion for seeing children in their country kept safe – this message, stopping short the flow of ‘Happy New Year’ greetings, this heartbreaking news that the cancer had finally taken her son – news so simply broken, so wholly breaking.
Where is grace here? Isn’t this darkness too big? Too real?
And yet, now, today – this ever-told story of following a star in the night sky.
Of trusting and watching and waiting and leaving behind and risking and searching and following.
Of arriving. Of finding what you seek. Of kneeling down. Of giving and receiving. Of joy.
And of returning into the darkness again, holding a treasure in your heart much greater than the one you brought in your hands.
Could it be so for us?
We can’t pretend this darkness isn’t here, isn’t overwhelming.
But could the birth of a child in Bethlehem mean that we can see light piercing through? That we can know and experience this light – a light which is somehow weightier, more substantial, than the darkness?
And this is it. It doesn’t make bad things good, it doesn’t make the darkness light. But it lets us see light shining anyway – in all the places we’d never expect it – the presence of Christ with us, recognised as a grace to live each moment with. The place where we stand is glowing with light, if we will open our eyes to see it.
The holy grail of joy is not in some exotic location or some emotional mountain peak experience. The joy wonder could be here! Here, in the messy, piercing ache of now, joy might be – unbelievably – possible! The only place we need to see before we die is this place of seeing God, here and now.
~ Ann Voskamp
This is what enables my Syrian friend and colleague to say with truth that his work with children during the conflict has been the best time of his life; this is how the church leader in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley can recognise the presence of Syrian families seeking sanctuary and support as a gift and a blessing.
So may this new year be about seeing the beauty in the everyday, in the hard places and in the painful situations. And not just in an idyllic, somewhere beyond us, words-only way; but in a messy, tear-stained, joyful, difficult, laughter-filled, real-life kind of way, as we live alongside one another and share each loss, each small step forward, the hopes and disappointments, and all that life is.
And as I struggle to comprehend the magnitude of loss and grief contained in that one message, I offer a simple word of comfort, which stands fragile and alone, almost nothing.
But then one by one the messages begin to flood in – messages of love and of being there, each one standing with this new friend, each one – and together – being the Christ-light in this darkness shared. And here, today, in this moment and in all moments, grace and beauty shine bright.