June 5, 2020

Lee Adams: Advent Hope

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Note from CM: Thanks to IM friend Lee Adams, for today’s moving meditation on Advent. He blogs at Homilies, Prayers, and Bread for the Journey.

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I stood and watched him sleeping in his grandmother’s bed. “His name is Ezekiel”, she said. “He blind.”  He seemed normal enough.  Small for his age, maybe, but any three year old would be dwarfed by the immense king-sized bed where he lay. The grandmother, young in years as far as grandma’s go, but definitely an old soul, tucked the covers around his neck. The child never moved, but rested peacefully  and secure.

“He blind ’cause his mama was bad on dope.  She done gone to the jail down in South Georgia somewhere.   She’ll be there until.”  At first I thought she was going to finish her sentence with a stated limit on her daughter’s sentence, but she didn’t. The “until” was final and indefinite, firm but undefined.  It was understood that Ezekiel’s mother was going to be incarcerated for a very long time.  “I got custody of all her kids, except two.  The other one’s is with my other daughter.  They was older, and I just didn’t have room for all them.” She had four of her grandchildren in her care, the “other daughter” had three more, plus a few of her own.

She stroked Ezekiel’s face as she spoke, “I was on dope for a long time, then Family and Children Services took my kids.  I got myself in rehab then, and got myself off the dope, and got my chirren back.  I been clean thirty years.  Ezekiel’s mama tried to get clean a few times, but she got other stuff going on in her head, like my sister.”  The sister had rushed out the door as I was invited in, and was smoking on the front porch.  She was talking non-stop, though she was alone.  The grandmother said, “She talkin’  to her dead child. She talk to her all the time.  If she start talkin’ like she’s mad or something, I just go pet her a little bit, maybe sing a little song to her, and she be alright.  She schizophrenic, like my daughter.”

She only briefly mentioned Ezekiel’s grandfather, a fun-loving man, at least until he scrapes together enough pennies to buy a gallon of Glen Moore Gin.  It’s then he does things to children that I dare not mention in my own home, for fear the demons that torment him might hear the notion of their handiwork, and consider it an invitation into my own children’s lives.  It was the grandfather’s actions that had brought me to her home.  He had forcefully poured Glen Moore down Ezekiel’s brother’s throat while the grandmother was at church with the other children.  The child had been admitted to a local hospital with a blood alcohol content of .24.  Pretty significant for a child that weighs a little more than 50 pounds.  That’s where I came in, the Child Protective Services Investigator.  The boy was fine; grandmother had grandfather leave the home;  but per policy, I had to check on the well-being of every child in the home.

It was policy that led me to this boy, named for an Old Testament prophet; quiet, but speaking volumes to me as he slept in his grandmother’s bed.  Adherence to policy led me directly to revelation of prophecy.  Isn’t that how it so often goes?  God strikingly displays Himself in the midst of our rigid routines, and opens our eyes to brand new possibilities we haven’t considered before.

The grandmother continued stroking the child on top of his blankets as she spoke, saying, “He a cripple, too”, gesturing toward a walker in the corner that looked more like a toy than a piece of medical equipment.  “He blind, and he a cripple, but he a gift.  It’s a miracle he even alive.”

I couldn’t stop looking at him, lying there sleeping. I wondered what he dreams about.  I wonder if he dreams in pictures and color the way I dream, and wakes up in dark wonder, considering what he has envisioned in his mind.  Maybe he dreams of sounds: the bark of a dog, falling rain on a tin roof, or the rambling voice of his tortured aunt, speaking to her lost child, somewhere between reality and fantasy.

Perhaps he dreams of textures and touch:  the feel of grass beneath his bare feet, the pattern of the fabric on the couch where he sits most of the time, or the gentle, loving touch of his grandmother’s hands, calloused and firm but loving and compassionate all at the same time.

He could even dream of smells or tastes of grandma’s cooking.  She was preparing chittlins (that’s chitterlings to you Northern folk), fried green tomatoes, and turnip greens for a Thanksgiving feast later in the evening.   I swear, I haven’t been able to wash the scent out of the clothes I was wearing, despite several tries.  How could he dream of anything else?

Or maybe he dreams of things I can’t perceive.  Could it be that he dreams of those moments in his mother’s womb, times when the very hand of God traced the shape of his lips, shaped the contours of his face, and painted the color in his eyes? Could he be dreaming of times when that divine encounter was broken by the poisons that his mother transferred from her own body to his:  a poisonous fruit passing from one hand to another, from hand to mouth, processed into nourishment that was as cold as death to Ezekiel; as welcome as mustard gas to an wounded and helpless soldier lying in the mud of a battlefield, alone, in the dark, waiting for his rescue.  For my baby girls, their time in the womb was a period of nurture, warmth, safety, and care.  They cried with great objection when they had to leave.  For Ezekiel, the womb was a concentration camp, where cruel experiments were done on his body.  He was so anxious to get out, he was delivered months too soon.

Or could it be within the reach of rational thought that Ezekiel, in that broken shell of a body, with eyes that cannot and will not ever enjoy a morning sunrise, a waterfall, or the wonder of the sight of a deer jumping a fence line in fall…Could it be that his dreams are filled with the wonder of hope?

852334_candleIf you look at Jesus’ phrase, “Suffer the little children to come to me” (Mark 10:14), the easy translation is to say that the word “suffer”, used in this context, simply means “permit” or“allow”.  Looking at the word in these terms seems to limit Jesus to the role of a ticket taker at a movie theater, or even a backstage bouncer at a rock concert, saying, “Let’em through.”  The word “suffer” seems more severe, more imperative, more urgent than simply saying “permit”, though.  To me, it seems as though He’s saying, “Get the children to me, no matter what it costs.”

Jesus was the chesedh, full of mercy, manifestation of God, come to earth to endure the harsh justice our brokenness demanded: the justice of the unjust terms of the cross.  He was the racham, moved with compassion down to his gut God, who was so inclined to set us free from the chains of death, that he took on our skin, our shattered dreams, our great joys, and our most desperate fears,  and wrecked Himself in order to wreck them.  There was nothing that He would allow to stand between Himself and His children.  “Suffer them to come to me” was a secondary imperative: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel“, which translates in dirt road terms as “I must get to my beloved any way I can”, was primary.  Before God demanded that children like Ezekiel be allowed into His presence, into the place where formerly only the best-dressed, most well-behaved, most mature and reverent and perfect church folk were allowed, He took the first step and came to Ezekiel.  Dare we enter into the Holy of Holies?  Can we resist, when the Holy of Holies sets Himself all round about us, in us, hopelessly, hopefully, hemming us in?  And if this God, this Word became Flesh, was so violently determined, so “suffer me to get to My children”, is it beyond the realm of reason that He might invade and occupy the dreams of this little broken boy?  Bad theology prays, “Lord, just be with us.”  Good theology understands that He is already there.  This Christ so consumed St. Patrick with His presence that the Irishman wrote in his epic prayer, The Lorica:

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left
Christ where I lie, Christ where I sit, Christ where I arise…

If Christ so surrounds us, I find it unfathomable that He wouldn’t be present in Ezekiel’s dreams.

Just a few verses of scripture after Jesus’ imperative statement about children, another instance of mercy occurs:

Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”

So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.

The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” (Mark 10:46-51)

I am reminded by Ezekiel that even in the worst of situations, there is the possibility of hope.  It is only fitting that I would meet this beautiful child during Advent, the time when we await the celebration of Christ’s birth, and anxiously anticipate His return.  We huddle with our friends and family, waiting to hear our Saviour say, “Suffer them to come to me”.  We wait by the roadside, trapped in our despair, listening for the One whom we can’t see, hoping for the unseen.   And when Christ passes by, not even the proper, best religious folks will be able to keep us away from Him.

Ezekiel sleeps peacefully and dreams of the day His Messiah will come: the day when Christ will say, “Suffer Ezekiel to come to me”; the day when our returning King pulls the child’s frail body to His breast like only a loving Father can, and speaks gently into his ear, “What do you want me to do for you?”

Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.  Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God.  He will come and save you.”  Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy…And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy,  and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.  

– Isaiah 35:3-6, 10

 

Comments

  1. Thank you for a very beautiful, very sad meditation. Hope is all Ezekiel, and all the rest of us, have.

  2. So beautiful! This spoke to my heart of hope in the midst of what seems like hopelessness. Of release in the midst of chains. And of healing in the midst of pain. Thank you for speaking hope to this hurting heart.

  3. This is very beautiful, Lee. Thank you for sharing with us. And those are great words from Isaiah as well. They bring tears to my eyes and hope to my heart.

    I pray that little Ezekiel will always be aware of the love of God and I am glad he has his grandma to watch over him.

  4. Thanks, y’all. Ezekiel does have a solid grandmother who provides him excellent care. I know he experiences the love of God through her and his siblings in great quantity.

    • Brianthedad says

      Thanks for what you do. As a foster family, we rarely know all that has transpired to bring these little ones to our house. We ache when they are returned home or to a family member, relying only on the word of the social worker that the little guy or gal is going to a place that is safe and good for them. Reading your comment here provides some comfort in that regard. Again, thanks for your work on the front lines.

  5. David Cornwell says

    Lee, this story relays such unspeakable tragedy that by the time I reached the end I could hardly contain the tears. It takes us to the depth of the human condition and shows us the pitch darkness that resides there, and makes us want to look away. But looking away from a hurting child is not that easy.

    So, thank God for the hope of the season, the hope that came alive in another child. And for a God who does not look away from the darkness that surrounds us all.

    I’m glad you are doing this good work Lee. Very thankful.

  6. Sometimes I read IM for the enjoyment.
    Sometimes I read it for the comment threads.
    And sometimes I read it and stand in the dock devastatingly convicted.
    Who would have thought the witness would come through the eyes of a blind child.

  7. “And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'” (Matthew 25.40)

  8. Lee,

    Don’t be discouraged with the dearth of comments. I think we have a hard time seeing the keyboard through swimming eyes. Thank you for this beautiful meditation. This is one that will stick with me.

  9. Virginia Stokes says

    Steve, This is very touching and meaningful especially at this time of the year. As a Social Worker I have encountered many sad situations with children and adults who have disabilities but through it all my faith has been strengthened. What insight this message has of the the Advent Hope. Thanks for sharing, Virginia