Driving around my town in North Carolina, I have come across a handful of houses that had decorated their yards with an empty manger staged in front of an empty cross. This juxtaposition of Christian symbols struck me as peculiar, so I began asking some of my friends if they had ever come across a display like this.
My Catholic friends were helpful in understanding the empty manger, which I could recall having seen previously. Traditionally Catholics wait until the Christmas midnight mass to place the baby Jesus in the manger. If Advent is a season of expectation of the Christ child, this liturgical practice makes sense. But what about the cross behind it?
I believe this stark manager and cross scene was intended to emphasize a theology centered around atonement: Jesus was born, so that he could die and save humanity. These combined symbols are somber reminders to all who drive by of our own sinfulness and need for salvation. I’m intimately familiar with this particular understanding of Christianity, so this wasn’t surprising.
But still, I find myself deeply saddened by this display of the empty and isolated symbols.
Where is the body?
Where is the community?
Where is the life?
If there were ever a time when we need to affirm the dignity of bodies, it is now as we witness an endless stream of state-sanctioned violence against people of color, a right-wing movement–more emboldened than ever–to restrict women’s bodily autonomy and shame women for their reproductive decisions, and the ongoing atrocities against innocent people in Aleppo.
If there were ever a time when we need to claim the importance of community, it is now as we reel from the election of Donald Trump and endure the onslaught of news about the deeply problematic and downright frightening cabinet appointments made daily.
If there were ever a time when we need to claim the goodness of life, it is now.
In these chaotic times I have found myself turning to the writings of spiritual leaders like Howard Thurman. His meditation “Life Goes On” has particularly rung true for me this Advent season. He writes:
It is just as important as ever to attend to the little graces by which the dignity of our lives is maintained and sustained. Birds still sing; the stars continue to cast their gentle gleam over the desolation of the battlefields, and the heart is still inspired by the kind word and the gracious deed.
To hold onto beauty, joy, and love in the midst of such uncertainty is a profound act of spiritual resistance. For me this has meant enjoying walks in the woods, soaking in the beauty of our church’s orchestra and choir, reading good books, and engaging in life-giving conversations with those I hold close to my heart.
Consider this post permission to claim your joy, whatever that means for you.
Katey Zeh, M.Div is a thought leader, strategist, and connector who inspires intentional communities to create a more just, compassionate world through building connection, sacred truth telling, and striving for the common good. She has written for outlets including Huffington Post, Sojourners, Religion Dispatches, Response magazine, the Good Mother Project, the Journal for Feminist Studies in Religion, and the United Methodist News Service. Her book Women Rising will be published by the FAR Press in 2017. Find her on Twitter at @kateyzeh or on her website kateyzeh.com.