Photo by Susanne Moorman Rowe of the Equal Justice Initiative’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery. Regarding the picture, Susanne writes, ” It was such an emotional visit that I felt like I was defiling the memorial if I took too many pictures. Something about this one, taken from a distance, felt more sacred.” EJI was founded by Bryan Stevenson.

“Hope is our superpower,” Bryan Stevenson asserted in his recent interview with Krista Tippett for Onbeing. His words stopped me. The truth of that statement flooded me with this fresh, yet unsurprising, realization. This is how we are making it right now. In this year of COVID, national disunity, and a much overdue racial reckoning, we’ve been forced to draw upon a whole new level of resilience and faith. A superpower.

Stevenson, a modern day hero in countless ways, is fueled by hope – a gritty belief in “what is unseen” which he “[waits] for with patience” (Romans 8). Speaking of things unseen, Stevenson also shared in the interview how he’d never met a lawyer before he went to law school. His vision has always been one of hope-filled belief in freedom and abundant life for all, even as the picture in his heart’s eye is painfully far from the surrounding reality.

The traditional themes, or “gifts,” of Advent are Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. I’ve experienced new meaning this year as to why Hope is always the first week of Advent. It’s both the opening virtue and foundational layer for all the other gifts and experiences to come. It harkens to a woman who said a hopeful yes to what she couldn’t see with her eyes but could with her heart. I think of hope as the true definition of courage.

I have two Advent prayers to share. One I included in my most recent “Monday Manna” newsletter. The other is a prayer from my book, Ash and Starlight, which even in this Christmas season like no other, still speaks from and to the depths of my heart.

While I wish all God’s gifts for you this Advent, I especially wish you Hope. A new day is coming, and God will carry us until we get there. In the meantime, we pray one of the most ancient prayers I know. Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus…

***

A Prayer for Advent 2020 

Maranatha….

Come, Lord Jesus…

Amid my reality feeling unsustainable

but not optional…

In my questions of capacity

and burning-with-fatigue-faith….

In the standards I’ve been forced to shift

and the expectations left untouched, let alone unmet. 

Yours is the Story, Lord!

A Story which cannot be swallowed by

even the most chaotic, swirling storm 

of illness, grief, rage, fear…

Even now, musicians don masks, 

little hands light candles, 

hearts and souls unite over screens.

You are coming here….

A miracle never finished, but always unfolding,

bringing new gifts in this season

when I don’t recognize my life,

and at many times, 

myself. 

Because you come,

I will love my life. 

I will claim its gifts. 

I will hold hope 

and breathe peace

and speak joy

and listen to love. 

Maranatha…

For this world, for all I love, for me…

Amen. 

***

A Parent’s Advent Prayer (From Ash and Starlight: Prayers for the Chaos and Grace of Daily Life)

Dear God,

I now stop what I’m doing,

what I’m thinking,

what I’m scrambling to plan

and hustling to finish 

so that I can

be here.

Be here in the safety and warmth of your love.

This love that holds me fast and keeps me centered.

What I want to be a season of joy for my children 

so quickly becomes a season of 

increased expectations for me –

not because they expect things, 

but because I do.

It’s the pressure I put on myself to

make things perfect,

and memorable,

and happy,

and *special*.

But you came to me amidst darkness and stars –

reminding me how darkness and light 

are most beautiful together.

And in that holy, mysterious and messy night, 

you re-defined perfection,

promising me that leaning into the mystery

and laying down in loving awe

compose the most faithful response.

You tell me the best gift I can give 

my children this Christmas is

to look with love into their eyes.

To pause throughout the day 

to pray over them.

To envelop them with arms 

of fierce grace when I feel 

most angry or annoyed.

To sit in wonder for a moment (or many)

and marvel at all that shaped 

our family this year.

To give thanks

and allow tears to fall

and dreams to rise.

To take my pilgrim band 

by their hands and walk together,

deep into the heart of Bethlehem 

shining bright within our souls.

This will be more than enough,

because you’ve made a manger 

in which my heart will rest and find 

your heartbeat becoming mine.

Amen.