December 4, 2016- Week two of Advent

Isaiah 11: 1-10     Finding God in “God-forsaken places”

“But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom, the spirit of God shall rest upon him.”

For many years, I simultaneously loved and also disliked this entire passage from Isaiah.  While I love the image of a blossom, a shoot sprouting from seeming dead wood, I have also wondered why anyone would want life to sprout from a stump of dead wood.  The words of promise and of hope that follow seemed too idyllic to be true in my own personal experience, even if they were referring to a Messiah I’ve lived my life believing in.

And then, I entered the dumps of Managua, Nicaragua, where hundreds of children live among the vultures (both human and animal), the stench of burning garbage, and the acrid smoke that left one gasping for air.  It is through my ministry of service to the marginalized and poor of Nicaragua, that I experienced both the pain and the promise of this passage on a much deeper level.

One such experience forever seared my heart, soul and memory during one of my visits to this hell hole.  I was with our driver and we were searching for a place where we could set up a site at which to feed the children who wrestled the buzzards and wild boars for food.  As we stopped in this apparent God-forsaken place, I literally burst into tears and uttered: “Oh my God, where are you”?  How could anything survive in this hell hole where hundreds of humans rush the garbage trucks trying to get first dibs on the scraps falling from their dumping, or where adults were known for trafficking these children?

At that very moment, a small girl, with knotted hair, tattered clothing, and dirt caked on her face, rushed toward me, wrapped her tiny filthy hands around my waist and her bare feet around my knees, looked up at me and asked, “Are you going to feed me”?  My heart sank to my toes as I had to be honest and tell her that I was sorry, but I had no food that day….there was no way I could mislead that child who was in all truth,  “a lamb among the wolves”, of which our reading speaks.  Yet, instead of running away from me (which is probably what I would have done had the tables been reversed), she took my hand and walked with me.

At that precise moment, I suddenly understood this passage from Isaiah on a level I never believed possible.  She was the shoot of hope for me; she was the blossom of humanity that embodied Christ for me.  She was a sign for me, that even in the worst hell holes created by human beings, God was present, hope was still being birthed, and this little one was a sacrament, a sign for the nations, and most especially, for me!  She is the one who comes to mind each time another child of war appears on TV, another child is washed ashore because of our inhumanity to one another, another child who is malnourished and emaciated is placed in my arms.  She and all these children are the sprouts of hope amidst the darkness.

The end of this life changing experience is that after much discernment and consultation, we began to feed the children in that dump 3 days a week.  And when I returned with the first delivery of food, that same little girl with the same runny nose, same tattered clothing and same knotted hair, looked at me with trusting, innocent, hopefilled, piercing eyes that I will never erase from my memory, and simply said:  “I had hoped you would come back”.

Yes, the promises of Isaiah, the promises of a God of compassion, who would judge the poor with justice, and the promises of another child being birthed in a stable, merged into a realization of what the martyred Archbishop Oscar Romero also understood, i.e., “We are prophets of a future not our own”. 

Hope was borne in a place where hell thought it had a juggernaut on life.  As we reflect on the readings of Advent, may we always seek the sprout that springs forth from seeming death; may we always find God in the midst of darkness and may we foster a human community that understands that justice and peace will not be fully birthed until we walk with hearts of compassion, peace, and justice, cradling the fragile signs of hope.

So, as you continue your Advent journey, what are the blessings and the invitations of this reading as you walk the journey of peace and justice in the weeks ahead?

Where, in your personal life or ministry experiences, have you found buds of hope amidst seemingly endless darkness?

Do you live with the understanding that we are all called to be “prophets of a future not our own”?  How do you do that? 

Are you open to the radical inner change and commitment needed to sow peace and foster justice for the most marginalized among us?

Prayer:  God of hope and promise, help me/us to be open to the many signs, the many blossoms of hope, of life, of promise that you set before us each day.  Help us to live and be hope to those in need of justice both in word and in deed.

Sr. Debbie Blow, OP