This time last year I was living in a refugee settlement office, preparing to spend my first Christmas away from home with those who were preparing to spend their first Christmas in Canada. Having lived through that experience I wrote a piece for my practicum blog. Reading it a year later, I am challenged anew and reminded of those I so loved and struggled alongside. The following is a revised excerpt from that post; my hope in reusing it is that those that affect our hearts and lives, especially in this season, may summon us towards action.
As I live and work amongst refugee claimants I become aware of the significance of advent as a season of waiting. As we prepare our homes and trees with decorations we prepare our hearts for the arrival of embodied love; in this season I begin to see how important the practice of waiting can be. The people I live with and care deeply about are in their own season of waiting. What they await is a letter in the mail telling them when they are scheduled to appear before the IRB. This hearing will determine if they are allowed to stay in this country or not. As they wait they try to process and deal with the pain they came with. Many of them cannot. They refuse to open locked doors until they know it is safe to do so. They are waiting for a place to call a home so they can begin to unpack and deal with the trauma that brought them here in the first place.
At the beginning of the advent season our director set up an advent wreath and a clay pot with 8 bulbs planted. She explained that in each week of advent, as the days grow shorter and darker, we light a candle to draw more light in. Each bulb planted was to represent one of us interns and, in their blooming, were to remind us of the life changing force of this season. The idea of this extra light set me thinking about Christmas lights and decorations. Does it not make sense that this is why each year we decorate our houses (both inside and out) as a way to save ourselves from the darkness; even when this goes against our understanding of wasted electricity and environmental care? In a recent recording of ideaExchange that hosted Jon Sears speaking on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, he challenged us to enter into the darkness, to the places of pain and shame, because it is in the darkness that truth is hidden. I wonder in this season of advent how we may be challenged to do the same.
Following this reflection I attended a morning service at TUMC (Toronto United Mennonite Church) and was challenged by these words:
“In our time, we suffer, and witness the suffering of others. God calls us to envision the end of suffering, to be patient observers of God’s healing action, and at the same time to be active partners with God in the coming of the good news of restoration. This Advent season, as a church and as individuals, we are invited to slow down, to breathe deeply, to slip into silence and to make space to experience God’s presence among us.”
As we enter into the darkness of winter solstice, advent and our own and collective pain, may we take a deep breath, open ourselves up to the waiting and be changed by and through it.
Ashley Cole holds a degree in International Development Studies from Canadian Mennonite University. She has recently completed an eleven month internship at Romero House. One of her favorite past times was rescuing old lady sweaters from the donation bins. For more information on the program and her reflections visit http://romeroreflections.wordpress.com/.