1 Samuel 1:13: Hannah was praying silently; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard; therefore Eli thought she was drunk.
Last night, I joined a Blue Christmas service. Have you heard of these? It’s a particular kind of worship service designed to make space for the grief and pain so many of us feel over the holidays. This year, in particular, we are all carrying so much of it.
Three clergy women colleagues guided us through the service, lighting candles and giving us permission to feel what we need to feel – even if all the rest of the worlds’ messages right now are telling us that JOLLY is the appropriate emotion, even here, even now.
In Advent, Christians traditionally light four candles – one for each week of the season. The candles represent the gifts of the waiting season: hope, peace, joy and love. In last night’s service, Pastor Mandy, Pastor Audrey and Pastor Angela lit candles honoring grief, anger, sadness and loneliness, those parallel states inextricably entwined with the season’s gifts.
My own grief and sadness are pretty close to the surface these days. Every day, I learn of another tragedy. The compounded grief of so many losses is real, and I can feel it in my easy tears and quick annoyance. I knew the opportunity to allow myself to be led into worship, instead of leading others – again – would be important. I knew that I trusted these pastors, in particular, to create sacred space for hard feelings. I was grateful for the invitation.
I did not expect to be punched in the gut, however, with gentle acknowledgement of anger and loneliness as holy things. I am still – even weeks into this practice of daily reflection – full up with anger. Angry at Congress for the $600 slap in the face “relief” bill they passed this weekend, angry at strangers choosing super risky holiday celebrations, angry at other strangers shaming me for my choices, angry at billionaires hoarding wealth when my neighbors are going hungry, angry at colleagues who have no creative energy left, angry at a healthcare infrastructure that allows hospitals to fill and denies care to the poor, angry at landlords poised to evict people next week, angry at the USPS for losing my packages, angry at Postmaster General Louis DeJoy for dismantling the USPS in the middle of a pandemic, angry at politicians who actively spread the virus getting their vaccine first, angry at the church for failing, failing, failing in our call to join in God’s healing justice, angry at SO MANY mediocre white men who are even now just luxuriating in their privilege to be loud and wrong, angry at the existence of the Trump Store on 220 in Boones Mill, angry at myself for not doing or saying or shouting or resisting more of all this evil. I am SO FUCKING ANGRY.
And last night, Pastor Audrey lit a candle in honor of that anger. A candle. A point of light. A reminder that anger is real and right and human; a reminder that anger is holy. Worthy of attention, worthy of being voiced and expressed and acknowledged.
And that’s when I started crying.
In today’s scripture, Hannah is losing it in the temple. She is weeping and praying and making deals with God. She has refused to keep her feelings to herself. She’s doing it all silently, though, which makes her look INSANE, and Eli, the priest, is certain that this drunk lady is profaning the sacred space.
He tells her to get out, but she refuses. “NO,” she says. “I’m not drunk. I’m pouring out my soul.” Eli, who I imagine must have been pretty skeptical, says “well, okay, go in peace, then.” But God heard Hannah – every word of her holy grief and anger – and granted her prayer. When she realizes that God has heard her and remembered her and answered her sobs and screams, she sings a song. And that song became famous – not only in her own family, but in ours, too. When Mary, Jesus’ mom, gets a visit from an angel and learns that she’s going to give birth to the Son of God, she reaches way back into the stories from her great-great-grandmothers and improvises on this song from Hannah.
Anger is holy. Grief is holy. Loneliness, longing and pain are HOLY. And we are not built to keep all of those powerful, moving, transformative feelings muted. We are invited to wail and weep and scream and shout – to do it, even, in God’s own sanctuaries. Because the world needs those songs, too.