Dear Right Reverend J. Jon Bruno,
I hope this Ember letter finds you warm and well.
I appreciate the simultaneous joy and upheaval proclaimed in the readings for this Advent season. Paul overflows with thanksgiving and blessings while Jesus and John the Baptist warn about cosmic and imminent catastrophe. The concurrence of bliss and disaster remind me of a quote that Frank Griswold shared at a session for the Society for the Study of Anglicanism in Chicago, a couple weeks ago. While co-presenter George Carey lamented the shattered state of the Anglican Communion, Frank Griswold held together both the joy and upheaval of the communion when he quoted Thomas Merton, who said, “As long as we are on earth, the love that unites us will bring us suffering by our very contact with one another, because this love is the resetting of a Body of broken bones.”
Not only does this quote frame my understanding of the Anglican Communion as I study for the GOEs, it also helps me see the upheavals in my own life as God restructuring my soul in order to deepen my capacity for joy and love. Over the past few weeks, a friend of mine from college was found dead, my girlfriend was harassed on a bus in Oakland and, a couple days ago, someone smashed through my car window and stole belongings out of my trunk. I take seriously Jesus’ words, “Be on guard so that your heart is not weighed down” because the temptation to let my heart grow heavy is a real one these days. Financial burdens, academic demands and youth ministry concerns are also beginning to take a toll. I feel overwhelmed, angry, sad and upset.
“Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your head, because your redemption is near.”
And there is also joy. In October, I reconnected with old friends like Michael Foley in Los Angeles and Earl Gibson in Lake Tahoe. And last month, I travelled to Chicago to see more friends and participate in a panel discussion at the University of Chicago Divinity School. And in a couple weeks, I will be travelling to Virginia to meet my girlfriend’s family. And today, a former member of my intentional community will be ordained here in Berkeley by Gene Robinson, someone who has embodied both joy and upheaval in the Anglican Communion. My soon-to-be ordained friend recently underwent profound upheaval in her life and, although enormously painful, I trust God will use her pain to deepen her ministry. In the same way, I trust God is reforming and refining me in the midst of my upheavals as I (joyfully) draw closer to ordination. I trust God is resetting my body of broken bones.
There is a Rumi poem that always speaks to me during Advent that reiterates Merton’s insight and invites me to be open and hospitable to my anger, my sadness and my life’s various upheavals, knowing that they are preparing me for a fuller joy and a deeper ministry. It’s called “The Guest House”:
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
It is hard for me to see the thieves who vandalized my car and my subsequent heated emotions as “guides from beyond,” but I am trying to believe that they are. And last Sunday night, my youth group helped me pray for the thieves as we gathered for Compline. And so already the thieves are deepening my ministry. And through them, God is resetting my body of broken bones.
Have a warm Advent and a blessed Christmas.
Daniel DeForest London