Fourth Week of Advent 2021

Between the last Advent candle and this one, we lost bell hooks, one of our shining stars. We can say, to paraphrase Sojourner Truth, that “bell hooks didn’t die. She went home like a shooting star.”

We’ve been talking this Advent about the Beloved Community – a phrase and practice very dear to the heart of bell hooks. In one of her more recent books, Belonging: A Culture of Place, she offers as a dedication the phrase: “to dancing in a circle of love–to living in beloved community.”

While I read bell hooks books on Black feminist pedagogy early on, it was Belonging: A Culture of Place that brought me back to her writing. When I heard that she’d shared an interview with Wendell Berry about the culture of place in Kentucky, I was intrigued. They are not a pair I would necessarily envision together.

But they are both people of place, people of Kentucky soil, and Appalachian sensibilities. In coming home, both found a deep authentic peace rising out of their respective “beloved communities.”

This fourth week of Advent is dedicated to the angels’ message: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth among those on whom God favor rests!”

This “peace” is not some transactional reward for the chosen, it is instead as Wendell Berry wrote, “the peace of wild things.” The peace of feral angels bring untamed tidings of joy to homeless shepherds.

Wendell Berry writes:  When despair for the world grows in me /and I wake in the night at the least sound / in fear of what my life and my children’s lives might be, / … I come into the peace of wild things / who do not tax their lives with forethought / of grief.  I come into the presence  of still water. / For a time / I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”

This is the peace that’s on offer to anyone who seeks after God in all the wrong places, who seeks after God on the margins, in the hidden tents and nursing homes and prison cell blocks. Who searches for God’s message in the stars of the night sky and the random encounter with angels living rough.

In the Beloved Community we thirst after this peace. We find it. We lose it. And we help each other find it again.

Our Advent journey is one where we travel back in time, we gather in the present moment, and we live in full expectation of the Coming Child, Immanuel, God-With-Us. The birth of Jesus is an encounter with “the peace of wild things.”

In Belonging, bell hooks offers a description that also describes our four weeks of Advent together. She writes:

“We are born and have our being in a place of memory. We chart our lives by everything we remember from the mundane moment to the majestic. We know ourselves through the art and act of remembering. Memories offer us a world where there is no death, where we are sustained by rituals of regard and recollection. … I pay tribute to the past as a resource that can serve as a foundation for us to revision and renew our commitment to the present, to making a world where all people can live fully and well, and where everyone can belong.”

Here’s “to dancing in a circle of love” Here’s “to living in beloved community.”

Breathe in. Breath out. It’s Advent.

–Rose Marie Berger (delivered as a reflection to Sojourners staff on Dec. 21, 2021, with reading of Matthew 1:18-25 )

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