Shalom at Advent
“Come, Thou long expected Jesus, born to set Thy people free.
From our fears and sins, release us; let us find our rest in thee.”
This fall I had the chance to retreat with friends to the mountains of North Carolina. We ate good food, visited, laughed and I, for one, was able to deeply rest. We sat under the teaching of a winsome woman who asked us to remember and to watch for Jesus’ presence in our current days.
Our first task was to remember a picture of “shalom” from our childhoods – some time and place where we felt deeply that all was well and all would be well, some time and place where we were hushed internally, or filled with wonder, or just content with who we were and how we were. Then we were to come back and share this with the group. I sat in my small group, listening to stories of innocence, joy, and security and I saw my friends’ eyes dance and light up as they invited me to remember with them.
In my young life, the Advent season was a time and place of restful peace. I could lean upon this being true all year, and if I am honest, I still find myself leaning now. Details from these Christmas seasons still live so strongly in my memory that they often haunt me, in a beautiful way. My family gathered at my grandparents’ small farm during the days leading up to Christmas. My grandfather worked to create and invite wonder and made it a place where I was free to anticipate. There were candlelit services and a congregation singing “Silent Night” as we filed out of the chapel into the courtyard into the black, cold night with only our voices and our candles. There were adults who knew and cared about my hopes for the season, and about my need for wonder, peace, and a baby born to rescue.
When did it begin to feel foolish to rest, to experience “shalom?” When did I, did we, conclude that the wiser path was to live braced, gripping, running? I was struck by how far back most of us had to go to get to a memory of deep and restful peace. For each woman in my circle, at some point, her peace was taken, lost, either in a jolting way or by a slow toughening that prodded her to enter the real world of adulthood.
This still happens to us, even though we’re no longer children. We live in and out of moments, maybe even seasons, of peace, that seem to always be interrupted by reasons to fear again. Rejection, diagnoses we did not want, loneliness, people who we cannot fix and for whom we ache, all seem to carry with them the whisper that the only answer is to live afraid, to leave behind the leaning. Fear seems so adult, so rational; trust seems so childish.
Listen, with me, to the beautiful interruption of these words in 1 Corinthians, of this truth: “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise.” A dependent baby, born to rescue us, intruded on our intrusions. His interruption into this place came in the darkness of night, in a poor country, to an overwhelmed woman. And His arrival puts to rest the power behind our frightening and toughening interruptions. Many of us will be walking through this Advent season in really difficult places. Rest may feel foolish, or just impossible to recover. And yet, we can lean, as children. We can afford to enter into moments of wonder, quiet, free laughter, and deep peace because our “shalom” has been bought and is being given back by the Child who is King.
Meredith Spatola joined The Barnabas Center on staff in January 2009, upon completing her Masters in Counseling from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and her bachelors in Religion and Psychology from Furman University. She counsels, leads women’s groups and teaches a seminar called “Hope in the Darkness” for those walking with individuals suffering from depression or bipolar disorder. Meredith, her husband Jon, and daughter Charlotte live in Rock Hill, SC.