by Natarsha Sanders

Advent is not the most wonderful time of the year. At least not for everyone.There are songs to sing, plays to rehearse, goodies to bake, halls to deck, lessons to plan, candles to light, gifts to wrap, emotions to manage, weight to watch. Travel. Family. Church. Oh my!

As educators we commit to the busyness of the church during Advent in hope of creating new memories for the families that we lovingly serve. No doubt we do this work because we enjoy it. Perhaps for many of us, a life as a religious educator is the work that our soul must have, as encouraged by the late Rev. Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon.

What happens when the work that your soul must have is both the cause and cure of sorrow? What happens in our season of Advent when the light of our hope candle goes dim or the candle of love is too damaged to ignite? What happens when the period of waiting outlasts the peace and joy that is promised to arrive?

If you have ever had to wonder through these questions in any form, trust and believe you are not wondering alone. For some, this space is called lament. Lament can be defined as a passionate expression of grief or sorrow. Lament can be a poem, song, dance, or prayer. Lament can also be embraced as a lifestyle.

In a recent conversation, someone confided in me that they longed to be able to go home for the holidays, but home was no longer safe due to their family’s response to their sexual orientation. This person misses home year-round but the feelings intensify around the holidays. Being invited to spend the holidays with another family is rewarding and welcomed. But, this person still misses the family to which they were born. The individual has been living with this for years. Now, this person is not crying daily or walking around in sackcloth and ashes. In fact, they have fun vacations, hang out with friends, laugh uncontrollably, eat delicious food, read good books, etc. all while missing their family and grieving the family’s adverse response to their sexuality. This is an example of lament.

Lament is passionate. If religious education is the work your soul must have, then you understand passion. If you have ever been passionate about a person or a cause, then you understand passion. If you can understand passion, then you can understand lament.

Let’s consider Mary, the mother of Jesus. I can imagine Mary afraid for her life and that of her unborn child. I can imagine all the questions she had as they ran for their lives because power sought to assassinate. Maybe Mary had similar questions like those asked above. I can imagine that Mary felt void of joy, peace, hope, and love as she waited to give birth without the help of a midwife or doula or nurse or doctor. I can imagine her feeling lonely, like the person I spoke to about being outcast by their family. She did not know where she would live. Her child had no bed or cute nursery prepared for him. This is Mary’s lament. And she still birthed Jesus.

As educators, part of our call is to tell the whole story. We are not to omit parts we don’t like or don’t understand. We are not to omit the parts that raise questions. An Advent filled with joy, hope, love, and peace must also be filled with the passion of these principles. As we embrace the passion of Advent, so too must we unveil the lament. An Advent void of lament is risky. We risk oppressing Jesus more by not telling the whole story; therefore, we oppress ourselves and we suppress our own stories. Jesus is part of our story, right? We can teach others how to embrace our call to experience Jesus as fully human and fully divine by taking his mother just as seriously as we take his father. We embrace the fullness of this period of waiting.

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Natarsha Sanders

is a preacher, writer and educator who centers her work on the intersections between wholeness, education, and justice. Through her teaching and preaching she uses antiracist education to counter exclusionist systems. Natarsha is entering her final year as a Doctor of Educational Ministry student at Columbia Theological Seminary.