Advent Ache, Advent Hope

by Brian Walsh

My daughters think that I hate shopping. They are mostly right.

Not all shopping, but certainly the kind of shopping that might take me into a mall. Indeed, my overwhelming bodily experience in a mall is an overheated irritation that gives birth to a grumpy exhaustion. My body literally starts to ache if I’m in the shopping mode too long. And too long is something like five minutes.

Actually, I can start to feel that overheated irritation and soreness just looking at a store these days.

That is one kind of bodily soreness.

But there are other kinds.

A few hours splitting and stacking wood can leave me sore.
Harvesting vegetables for a morning can leave me with aches and pains in various parts of my body.
So can hauling water for the animals or walking back and forth across a field as I’m trying to repair an electric fence.
Indeed, while I’m never ‘sore’ after a couple days of teaching, preaching and pastoral care on campus, there is an exhaustion that I can feel – especially at the end of a busy semester.

But there is something deeply fulfilling and even gratifying about this kind of soreness, this kind of tiredness.

I look at that neatly constructed stack of wood (some people are ‘house proud’, I confess to the sin of being ‘wood stack proud’), or that bushel basket of vegetables, or that electric fence that is keeping the animals where they need to be kept, and I feel as if I have earned every ache and pain that I am feeling. Or I reflect on the semester, or a number of days of intense ministry and experience, and realize that I am experiencing the fulfilled exhaustion of good work – an exhaustion that is real, but somehow doesn’t totally deplete me.

Maybe that’s the thing. An exhaustion born of frustration and futility or an exhaustion born of good work and hope. The soreness of meaningless consumption or the aches and pains of life lived well.

Advent can be an exhausting time. It can leave you sore.

I guess the question is which kind of soreness, which kind of exhaustion, will characterize Advent for us? The culturally induced fatigue of consumptive expectation, or a deep longing, groaning and keening for the coming of the One who will make all things new?

At Wine Before Breakfast this Advent we are meditating on Romans 8. We may never get out of this chapter. We remain with a creation that waits, a creation that groans. And we add our own weary, sore and longing groans to the rest of creation even as the Spirit herself groans with sighs too deep for words.

And while this groaning, this soreness, this fatigue and exhaustion may be frustrated (and cries out “how long?”), it is not a soreness of exhaustion born of futility. It is not meaningless. Rather, this is the fatigue of a mother between contractions. This is an exhaustion and a pain of new birth.

This is what Bruce Cockburn calls “working and waiting for a miracle.”

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.

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