The Undoing of Advent

a window with snowflakes of frost covering the pane

Last week, I sat on the floor with a piece of paper torn from my sketchpad and paint bottles scattered around me. I felt drawn to the color red and I poured the paint onto the blank paper canvas and sank my hands into the cool liquid. I watched as my fingers continuously swirled upwards, forming a crimson arc. I added darker colors at the bottom, wondering if this would form the base of what was beginning to look like a flame. Instead, as my fingers and brush moved, they became branches and the base became a wilted trunk, with flecks of red and gold scattered across it. My brush still had paint on it and as I moved it towards my cup of water, I hesitated and instead sank it back into the paper. Again and again, dotting the page with increasing intensity and emotion.

And then I paused and looked at what I had created; a tree on fire, with its leaves flying away with the wind from the flames. It seemed fitting for the emotion that my body held. I remembered months earlier, crying in my room because the West Coast was on fire and the earth was suffering from the neglect that white supremacist systems and refusing indigenous wisdom had brought.

All creation groans seems like a fitting statement for the ache of this year. In my personal life, I have endured deep losses over this past year, and in many ways, it has seemed like an undoing. Nearly every aspect of my life – from my job and therapy with clients that now take place on a screen, to my friendships and relationships with family – looks nothing like I would have wanted or imagined at the beginning of this year. And collectively, our nation and world are also in an undoing process, with evil becoming more visible and cruel systems being exposed to those who may have been able to once turn a blind eye.

At the beginning of 2020, I wrote about hope and the process of tearing down ancient ruins before new homes can be built. In all honesty, I was considering my own personal process that I felt called into. I was reflecting on the prophet Isaiah, who told of people who would rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated. I grew up in a home where those words were often spoken as a way to speak against generations of trauma and abuse. The words held hope for my siblings and me to begin something new in our family line. And yet, I wrote about hope and tearing down ancient ruins because the terrible truth is that acknowledging generational trauma is a beginning of an undoing process. Trauma still endures in my family, because it lives within the collective memory and system itself. My parents had the courage and faith to see the ruins, and my generation must have the willingness and fortitude to begin the work of dismantling them. We cannot rush healing, and the process of undoing is in itself a part of the restoration process.

Collectively, there is an undoing that seems to be happening this Advent season. 2020 has held trauma, both in a general sense of the word and in so many people’s individual and familial lives. Trauma has a way of creating confusion and chaos. It troubles our equilibrium and stores its fragmented memories in our bodies. And yet, trauma also exposes what has been able to live in secrecy and shame. Like the wildfires that exposed the bare bones of old-growth forests, the pandemic has exposed the ancient structures of white supremacy and careless stewardship rooted in the very ground of our nation.

In the midst of this year, what does it mean to be in a season of Advent? I am weary and overwhelmed and in some ways, that response is beyond my control. It is difficult to focus these days because on a very instinctive level, my body is constantly alert for threats. And, I did not begin this year completely free of hypervigilance. My body already held memories of trauma; the events of 2020 have served to both expose what had been implicit and deepen my long-honed survival instincts. This is true of every single person. For those whose bodies already experienced a lack of safety because of their skin color or ethnicity, the events of 2020 have revealed the danger to others that they already felt. The suspicion and rage that had buried deep into white American consciousness has risen to the surface in ways that, while not new, are more exposed. Living in a part of the country that often prides itself on its progressive values, I am seeing my own neighborhood seem to come apart at the seams as people rage on social media and let their own buried judgments be seen for the sake of their own survival.

We are in an undoing. Trauma is being exiled from home without a clear way of return. There is deep, wild grief in that kind of loneliness. Perhaps Advent this year can bring a strange sort of comfort to our weary, lost bodies. The incarnation is a crazy sort of undoing; a God breaking the boundary of human skin to become someone who was also impacted by trauma and evil systems. A woman’s body bled and shook to bring forth the Divine life, and this is also an undoing. I hope that in the midst of the turmoil of this year, the Gospel seems less familiar and more comforting. We are in trauma that disrupts our way of seeing the world and being in our bodies. Perhaps we can see with new eyes, the screaming infant God being birthed into a broken world.