Winter Wasteland (Immanuel)

prayers, Theology

This is part of a series of prayers through Isaiah 7:14 for those who feel that they cannot celebrate the Advent season (Intro, Carols, Pretensions, Immanuel).

“Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.”

We reel
        and falter
        and wander
        and forget
        and take revenge
        and write them off
        and lose heart
        and “Get the hell out of my life.”

We hear many sneaking,
                                creeping voices
                                in the first person:

Our pain is too intricate
                                for your care.
Our mistakes say too much about us
                                for your love
                                —your real, approving love.
Our consequences are too permanent
                                for your power.
Our regret goes deeper
                                than your reach.
Our trauma is beyond us,
                                and you.

And you.

Never unsettled?
Never surprised?
Never too late?

No. We refuse that “Thou.”

Unsettle yourself
                        and us.
Surprise yourself
                        and us.
Swoop in
                        for us
                        against our calamitous impulses,
                        beside our bewitching habits,
                        in spite of all our “too lates,”
                        before and around, guiding our “if onlys.”

We struggle,
                        and at times hate
                        (and at times love)
                                to admit
                        our situation with you:
                        Your Name.

We “shall call his name Immanuel.”

Winter Wasteland (Pretensions)


This is part of a series of prayers through Isaiah 7:14 for those who feel that they cannot celebrate the Advent season (Intro, Carols, Pretensions, Immanuel).

“O Come, thou rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny.”

Undo our tangled emotions.
Sew a smooth cloth to dress our wounds.
                                            to sling our sprains.
                                            to clean up our messes.

Longsuffer our distrusting hearts.
               We are eager to point out your absence.
               We are ready to fall on our swords.
               We are ready to coerce your attention
                                  any way we can.

Prop up our unshakeable faith
               which is gone in the morning,
               which carries all of our unspoken expectations
               and all our purity and pretension.

It is not easy for us, Lord.

We live in an open world,
               and are threatened.
We pray to a closed heaven,
               and feel ignored.
It is not easy for us to sit still
               while you do … what, exactly?

Give us a miracle.
                 a sign from you.
                 a way to test you.
                 a sense of self.
                 a word.
                 a reason to walk away.
                 a reason to stay.
                 a little help.

“A virgin shall conceive
               and bear a son.”


Winter Wasteland (Carols)


This is part of a series of prayers through Isaiah 7:14 for those who feel that they cannot celebrate the Advent season (Intro, Carols, Pretensions, Immanuel).

You ask too much of us.

          “Let nothing you despair.”
          “Comfort and joy.”
          “God and sinners reconciled.”
          “Let every heart prepare him room.”
          “Let loving hearts enthrone him.”
          “Sing in exultation.”
          “Born this happy morning.”
          “The little Lord Jesus,
          No crying he makes.”

We would sing gladly
          if we could mean it.
We would pray
          if you would answer.
We might rejoice
          if you cried.
We would ask
          if you weren’t doing other things with other people.
We would knock
          if you didn’t have other company
          —more faithful company.
We would seek and bother and annoy
          if we thought you acted.
We would believe you care,
          but we both know why that’s not possible.

Bid us the mercy
                    and courage
                    to linger unfinished
                    in our carols:

          “Descend to us, we pray.”
          “That mourns in lonely exile here.”
          “In sin and error pining.”
          “Sins and sorrows grow.”
          “Far as the curse is found.”
          “Fails my heart, I know not how;
          I can go no longer.”

“Silent night.”
          Yes. Silent day.
          Silent week.
          Silent month.
          Silent year.
          You’re par for the course.

Only you can make these words take root:
     Do not let our dissatisfaction with you rule us.
     Make a fool of our stubborn despair.
          Don’t hate us.
          Don’t leave us. . .
          But don’t ask us for what
          you have already taken.

How could you possibly restore our hope?
What hand could you play that would beat our doubt?

“Therefore, the Lord himself
will give you a sign.”

Winter Wasteland (Intro)


This is the introduction to a series of prayers for those who have difficulty celebrating the Advent season. (Intro, Carols, Pretensions, Immanuel).

I spent this Easter in Philadelphia. It was my first Sunday back from Dallas after moving there for a girl. We broke up. It was the final straw on what felt like an unbearable series of events: death, exile, rejection. We sang “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.” That Constantine-eseque christus victor melody alone made me feel like vomiting. The words made me want to leave the faith.

In college, my historical theology professor would say every class, “Saints, the history of Christianity is a story of those who have given up, and those who have not.” I didn’t understand that until this year. The other day, my pastor told me, “Those who give up on the faith … The world calls them ‘brave.’ I call them chickenshit.” I’m certain you all will disagree with him. This Christmas season—as far as I can choose for myself—I do not disagree with him. He’s right—at least, he’s right for me. For many reasons, theological and personal.

Over the next three days, I will post three prayers—I will pray three prayers through Isaiah 7:14 (“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel”). Besides attending church, it is my only practice of advent. These prayers are my attempt to embody what I have learned—what my shepherd has told me.

These prayers are for those who cannot celebrate Christmas for one basic reason: the hope of advent is unavailable. The hope of Christmas is inaccessible for many. The door may be open theologically, but it is closed psychologically. It is open principally, but closed personally. This Christmas, there are many who despair—who grieve. There are many who do not (and cannot) experience what Keller calls “Joy which transcends circumstances.” It just doesn’t make sense. The weight of that mystery weighs in sharp measure on the grieving this Christmas.

These prayers are a preemptive measure against another agonizing and injurious holy day. These prayers are a rude and unwelcome insistence of hope against profaning and impious impulses—in the midst of plummeting and impossible circumstances.

This has been a yearlong summer for me. The cold is refreshing. Subzero temperatures are, perhaps surprisingly, softening and strengthening (subverting, even) my hard heart. I have needed this winter in the North. It is a solace from self-judgment and a reckoning of divine injustices. Only God can determine what each will look like. I hope that the prayers will help some. For the grieving, I hope it will assist our genuine attempt to practice a tempered, but merry Christmas.