Signs are taken for wonders. “We would see a sign!”
The word within a word, unable to speak a word
Swaddled with darkness. In the juvescence of the year
Came Christ the tiger
–T.S. Eliot, “Gerontion”
In the last several days I have been with a number of people who were unable to speak a word. In each case I had a sense of having brushed up against something holy, though it was not immediately plain how this was so. At the time, each encounter was awkward in its own way. Only tonight am I unpacking it all a little.
Tuesday evening in an intensive-care room at Rose Medical Center, I held a woman’s hand as medical staff disconnected her breathing tubes. In the quiet dark, family members touched her goodbye.
Thursday morning at Joshua Station, a motel for homeless families where I work, I looked into the face of a newborn child.
Today I stopped by Monaco House, a group home for developmentally disabled teens. Monique, a young lady I have known and loved for many years, greeted me excitedly and introduced me to her friends, most of whom have disabilities more profound than hers. Some cannot speak. We nodded and grinned at each other.
Tonight, Christmas eve, our family is swaddled in sleeping bags for our traditional living room slumber party. The house is dark. Our neighborhood is unusually silent for a Saturday night. I remembered Eliot’s poem, and like the old geezer “Gerontion” reflecting on his life and on Life, I’m wondering at the mystery of God-with-us. The Word that roared the universe to life came silent in the dark. Stealthy as a tiger, ready to spring in the springtime (or youth? I read somewhere that Eliot made up the word “juvescence,” which made me feel better for never having heard of it) of the world’s calendar, smashing our words with his silence and our competence with his helplessness. “For he shall save his people from their sins.”
Christ’s coming is good news worth shouting about, for sure. Maybe tomorrow. But tonight, this last evening of Advent, it’s worth being quiet about–listening to the Word unable to speak a word, swaddled with darkness.