When my first baby was a year and a nine months and no longer a baby, I finally found myself in a choir again. Being back in a cloud of voices, raining down notes together, was healing in a way a didn’t expect. We sang, among other songs, Andrew Carter’s Magnificat, and I could not get through Mary’s lullaby without my voice breaking: “I will love you, I will serve you, make my lullaby magnify, glorify the King of Kings.” Standing shoulder to shoulder with fellow church choristers, reading our music in the warm light of the choir loft, I was back in the early days of the baby’s life, breastfeeding him in the dimly light evenings. In those days, depressed and vulnerable, I would often cry, overwhelmed simultaneously with love for him and fear for what this broken and dark world would hold for him. How can I bring such innocence into such an evil world? Now as I sang almost two years later, I thought of Mary, breastfeeding the tiny Messiah, vulnerable and away from home. When she pondered all these things in her heart, did she feel the darkness of the world pressing against the innocence of the child she was now to care for? Nine months after she sang her triumphant song about his overcoming the darkness in this world, did she fear what this dark world would hold for him?
Advent and Mary and babies make me weepy since birthing my own children.
This year, I am caught off guard by a different artistic expression of Advent: an image by artist Scott Erickson, depicting a naked Mary labouring on a chair. I am undone seeing her face strained in pain, a yellow circle like a halo around her contracting belly. This year there are no choirs to sing in, no carols and lessons, no candlelight services to attend. Just the digital attempts at doing Advent together through scrolling social media feeds. They are frail substitutes. Often I find myself scrolling mindlessly, almost aggressively, trying to find some sliver of connection with others when we are surrounded by distancing. On Sunday mornings, I try to bask in the beauty of the Advent hymns ringing from the livestream of the worship service. But my baby and three-year-old can only sit in front of a computer screen for so long. Eventually we paint ornaments or eat snack while I try to catch snippets of the sermon. Church has become something we cobble together throughout the day.
In the evenings I light our makeshift Advent wreath—a kitschy gold tea light holder and a giant red candle. In the middle of supper the three-year-old breaks out in singing, “For health and strength and daily food, we praise your name, Oh Lord,” then explains, “I just wanted to sing that because we have the candles and I thought we should pray to God since we are celebrating God’s birth.” His dad and I join in the chorus the second time around. So we have a choir after all. After supper we try to carve out a moment in the chaos to read the story of John the Baptist from his children’s Bible. Then he blows out the candles enthusiastically, spraying molten wax on our table. Tomorrow at breakfast I will pick at these spots with my fingernail, shiny reminders of our attempts at home-bound liturgy. Artists, pastors and prophets offer their gifts online while we sit in our chairs, groaning in the pain of a labouring world, waiting to be together, waiting for God to arrive, waiting to be restored, waiting to celebrate.