Last night, Church of the Epiphany’s Courageous Ground Task Force hosted the first of its Advent formation opportunities called Preparing to Become Beloved Community. The conversation last night focused on the telling of difficult truth and how it is difficult both to receive/hear a difficult truth and the difficulty in sharing a difficult truth. To do either of those in a way that is filled with God’s love asks us to prayerfully reflect on the truth that needs to be shared if we are attempting to bring others along with us to see and hear the experience being shared. It is a difficult practice if for no other reason than we have few examples in the broader context of our world to follow. We have far more examples of bad behavior and a lack of caring for the perspective of another than we do of patiently listening or patiently telling a difficult truth into the center of a community we love and cherish. In fact, when difficult truths are spoken in the Church, the truth-teller is often accused of not loving the Church.
The hope in exploring the Advent program Preparing to Become Beloved Community is that we are able to explore, with intention, the difficult truths that the Church needs to hear and needs to tell itself. The practice of doing this in a group setting is that it provides each participant the ability to speak from her or his own experience and invites each participant to listen to what another is sharing with open hearts. In the listening, we will likely hear similar experiences from the people in the room, and we will see that we return to where we started more times than we think is absolutely necessary. The work that the Courageous Ground Task Force has taken up – the work of racial reconciliation and building a more diverse community of faith at Epiphany – has that very shape. It is circular in nature, and we will find ourselves returning, time and again, to the place from whence we started. And this is a good thing.
The season of Advent is a season of returning and of walking in circles. It is a season that uses the Advent wreath, a circular object (although ours is a bit square this year being fashioned around the Cross fountain in the courtyard), to trace the passing of time as we move through the Advent season. It is a season in which we return to telling the story of the coming of Christ, and the way that we tell that story in The Episcopal Church is focused as much on the second coming of Christ as it is about the initial Advent of Christ on Christmas. Although we return to the starting point of the circle year in and year out, we also might find that each Advent season offers a new perspective on that same starting place. Each Advent season invites us to consider how we are being called forward into a new context that has shifted ever so slightly since the previous Advent. The circle that we trace in Advent is both a return to the stories that we have been telling for centuries and an opportunity for us to seek deeper understanding through our faith.
For the next several weeks, we are in a season of hope-filled longing and expectation. As we travel the circular path of Advent, we are invited, as a community of faith, to pay prayerful attention to the changes in our context. We are invited to travel the circular pattern of Advent – both of waiting for the second coming of Christ and of hopeful expectation of God’s incarnation – with eyes to hear and ears to see. We are invited to travel with hearts wide open as we seek to follow in the way of Christ and as we seek to take up the mission of God in our own community as we proclaim, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (Mark 1:1 NRSV)