Discomfort and Joy

For the last two weeks, I’ve had the same song – really, refrain – swirling through my thoughts and movements. It’s highly repetitive words and rhythms just stuck in my head in such a way that I haven’t been able to shake them. When I first heard this refrain, it was through my husbands headphones watching a video of a Mennonite congregation filing into a large church, singing together. It was beautiful from a musical standpoint, but my initial reaction found the words themselves a bit repulsive – too simple and maybe too christian-y? (is that a thing in anyone else’s world but my own?) Upon this first listen/watch, I heard the song from the cynical and judgemental platform that attempts to prove the irrelevance of the church. My thought was that this would only serve the purposes of that cynic – helping to reveal an inadequate understanding of how to deal with the world by focusing instead on trusting a God who may already seem removed and unhelpful in a time when our country is wracked with political strife, viral pandemic, and a confrontation of the injustice caused by years of systematic racism and social inequalities.

We are not alone for God is with us”

Words and Music: Pepper Choplin

As the words continue to swirl, I’ve had to reckon a bit with this judgemental cynic. Reminding myself (clearly the biggest cynic in the room), that those words, while pithy, are the simplest form of a good reminder. The lyrics repeat: “We are Not Alone, We are not alone, We Are not alone, God is with us” – and that refrain is sung throughout – acting as the subtle heartbeat of percussion under a solo soprano line that conveys the same message. This reminder is easy to hum – to sing -to remember throughout the movements of a day – waking, sleeping, and all the hard in between. A calming rhythm to keep me moving.

“Tidings of comfort and Joy” – we sang throughout the season of Advent and straight into Christmas. Comfort and Joy, and Joy and Light, now, in Epiphany – and yet, I’m stuck in the discomfort as I attempt to reckon the juxtaposition of a broken world and these beautiful promises come to life.

It’s an interesting dynamic: the experience of following the Liturgical Calendar and it’s focus on God’s promises of comfort, joy, grace, and peace all set within the discomfort of these promises being absolutely counter-cultural and against a background of so much brokenness. Additionally, it’s easy to recognize the discomfort of Advent and the waiting for a Savior; the discomfort of Lent and it’s giving up of self to focus on the Life and Death of that same Savior; we voice the discomfort of a seemingly never-ending Ordinary Time (Or Trinity-tide, or Season after Pentecost – whichever you prefer – it’s a lot of months). However, Christmas, Epiphany, and Easter focus on Light and Grace – literal tidings to bring comfort and joy to every person who hears, tells, and remembers, the story. And here I sit in the discomfort of it all. Discomfort of focusing on light when there is so much darkness, focusing on hope when there is clearly so much hopelessness, and I think it’s those thoughts that have finally convinced my inner cynic to embrace this beautiful song. That the two seemingly dichotomous realities of Epiphany and this broken world, are nonetheless simultaneously and equally TRUE.

The discomfort of these two truths is exactly why I need that drum beat, why I need the words. Because it is true that The World God Created is broken and full of so much injustice and shame and utter despair, but “We are Not Alone”, because it is also true that God came to save the whole world, even in it’s broken disbelief, and Epiphany is a time to remember that Jesus walked the earth, gathering disciples along the way, and His story doesn’t end here. We get to be part of a story that didn’t start with us and it won’t end with us, one that we may each want to individually write a million different ways into beautiful – a million different broken ways. And the reality is that it’s a beautiful story on it’s own, and we are just a piece of it, but “we are never alone”.

(p.s. The Psalm in the Revised Common Lectionary this week was Psalm 139 – it may have helped me come around to loving this refrain.)