Immanuel. God With Us.
I am told that “Advent” is derived from the Latin adventus, referring to a coming, or an arrival. An arrival that is highly anticipated. And in the case of the coming of God in Jesus, something for which people had been—have been—waiting for a long, long time. And even after he arrives—first in Bethlehem, then Judea, then throughout the world to even me—I still feel at times as if I am still waiting.
Waiting for him not just to find me, but to heal and regenerate me. All of me. Especially the parts that remain anxious; that fear scarcity; that hoard and clutch; that condemn myself and others as easily as I breathe; that worry that the world is turning into a horror, but more so that in some way that horror’s very pulse lies in the deepest part of my own being.
I am also told that the coming is of one called Immanuel. God with us. But what exactly does it mean for God to be “with?” With me as the chair is with me in the room? As my clothes are with me on my body? As my breath is with me in my lungs and perfusing eventually my very corpuscles? Perhaps it means all of these and more. But mostly I am struck by the notion that Jesus has come to be with me in my suffering. Yes, in my play, in my joy, in my moments of delight. But those would be moments in which I would want him to join me. And yes, of course in the abstract I would want him to join me in my suffering. But frankly, I believe that is more about my anticipation that when he arrives to be with me in my suffering he does so to take it away, to abolish it. To satisfy my longings, my unsatiated hungers and thirsts.
The odd thing is, that has not been my experience. As I have been introduced to the work of Georges Rouault I have seen a Jesus that is so with our suffering that it strikes me that the point of his presence is exactly that—his presence. And his intention to so draw my attention to him as he suffers with me that my awareness of my suffering is transformed—and as such my very suffering itself.
If there is any way in which I am able to be persuaded that Advent is real and that God has arrived—and continues to arrive—to be with me it is through the embodied presence of my friends by whom I am most deeply known, and known not least by the parts of me that I hate the most. The parts that are terrified on the one hand that they will never see the light of day, yet on the other that in being seen in that very light they will be recognized as being only worthy of immediate, outright rejection. But these are the very domains of my mind that my friends—who arrive in embodied ways in the name and Spirit of Jesus—refuse to give up on. Friends who say to me that no matter how bad things are within me, I can’t make them leave. The interpersonal neurobiology of shame dictates that any part of my mind that is affected by it will, when left on its own, isolate itself to the point of starvation. Our brokenness, rooted in shame, is unrepairable on its own. It necessarily requires someone outside of our system to come to us, to arrive, to be with us, as it were, even if the process may seem at times to be taking forever.
At the Center for Being Known, we are committed to developing ways for churches, educational systems, businesses, mental health practices and other organizations to incorporate what it means to be known, empowered by what life at the intersection of neuroscience and the tenets of spiritual formation is teaching us. And in so doing, these organizations become systems in which Advent is never limited to four weeks a year. Systems of goodness and beauty in which we learn the art of arriving on behalf of others, coming to be with them, while we discover what it means to be found ourselves.
This Advent season, we invite you to consider helping the Center for Being Known move forward in its mission by giving what God moves you to give, knowing that your gift will be supporting the development of outposts of goodness and beauty. Outposts in a world we are all waiting for.
And one that is surely coming.