“Keening for the Dawn” … again

(further Advent reflections on Steve Bell’s title cut from his new album, Keening for the Dawn: Christmastide)

by Brian Walsh

I’m still struck by the keening.
Keening for the dawn.
What could that mean?

We keen in the face of death.
Keening is an act of mourning,
a cry of anguish in the face of irreparable loss.

Yet Steve Bell would have us “keening for the dawn,”
and he will lead us to imagine that such keening
is what Advent is all about.

You see, “keening” is a very special sort of “waiting.”
This is a waiting for vindication.
This is a waiting for justice.
But most profoundly, this is a waiting for resurrection.

When you talk about keening during Advent,
you are already anticipating Easter.

What keening does is move Advent waiting
into Advent lament.

Lament and Advent.
They are inseparable.

Indeed, you cannot enter Advent apart from lament.

A spirituality without lament isn’t just a spirituality of cover-up,
it is a spirituality of docility, passivity and submissiveness.
Walter Brueggemann said that.

And that is precisely the kind of spirituality that is engendered
by a lament-free Advent.

An Advent that isn’t desperate for the Dawn,
isn’t wailing with the mothers of the dead;
in Palestine and Syria,
in Israel and Egypt,
in Honduras and Somalia,
in First Nations reserves,
and on the the streets of Toronto and the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver,
… is no Advent at all.

Advent is a time of lament.
And lament is the spiritual enemy of consumerist cover-up.
Lament is letting the pain of the season come to full expression.
Lament is saying, “fuck this North American culture of death.”
Bud Osborne said that.

But here’s the thing.
Lament is rooted in memory and directed towards hope.

Steve Bell puts it this way:

Keening for the dawn as such
Stirs the memory of your touch
We are waiting

Somehow, in the very act of keening,
in the very expression of lament,
in the very wailing out in the face of death,
memories are stirred,
memories are evoked.
Memories of touch.

The keening mother remembers the touch of her beloved child,
a touch that is now lost.
And that loss occasions the keening.

But for Bell, this is an Advent keening.
The keening for the dawn is rooted in memory of past touch,
rooted in memory of past communion,
rooted in memory of past intimacy,
indeed, rooted in memory of delightful walks in a garden.
And the very act of keening, the very expression of grief,
the abrasive voice of lament in the face of loss,
also occasions a hope for the dawn,
a hope for resurrection,
a hope for a coming again.
And we are waiting.

Bell’s song begins:

On and on the night goes on
Brooding dark before the dawn
We are waiting

The night is dark and I am far from home.
Jonathon Kozol said that.

In the beginning … the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.
Genesis said that.

Brooding dark before the dawn.
Brooding Spirit, life-giver, Creator.

The Spirit who once gave birth to all of creation,
evoked again.

Another darkness.
Another night.
Going on and on and on and on.

So what do we do in this darkness?

Worried lips rehearse our creeds
Bellies swollen with your seed
We are waiting

We wait and we rehearse our creeds.
But with worried lips.
No self-assured certainty here.
And there may well be bellies swollen,
there may well be promise of new life,
but we are waiting.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
St. Paul said that.

We are waiting.
All of creation is waiting.
God the Spirit herself is waiting.
For the dawn.
For the birth.
For the new creation.

So what do we do as we wait?

Hardened shards of broken bread
Small consolations in your stead
Soured wine a tonic for the pain
Dutifully we take our fill
Still we long to see your face again

Mr. Bell calls us to the table.
Admittedly, it’s not much of a meal;
… some broken bread,
… a little wine as a tonic for the pain.

But dutifully we take our fill,
week in and week out, we come to the table,
as we wait, as we long, as we keen …
to see your face again.

Advent, lament, Eucharist.

Brian Walsh
Brian is an activist theologian, a retired CRC campus minister, the founder of the Wine Before Breakfast community, and farms with Sylvia Keesmaat at Russet House Farm.He engages issues of theology and culture, and has written a couple of books you might want to check out. His most recent offering is cowritten with Sylvia Keesmaat and entitled Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire, Demanding Justice.

One Response to ““Keening for the Dawn” … again”

  1. Steve Bell

    Brian- in the shadow of yesterday’s events in Conneticut, I came back to your words here and read, and re-read, and re-read, and wept. These words were particularily helpful this day. Thanks.


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