“Attention must be paid….attention, attention must be paid!”
These words, from Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, carry a wife’s torment over the lifetime she has spent with her ever hopeful, never successful Willy Loman, who has died. The urgent pleading of that voice is what I hear this Advent. There’s a drive, an edgy energy that makes the standard “watch and wait” seem anemic. I want to act, protest, give service, and in this time of staying in place, I feel frustration within the bubble of safety I inhabit.
I hear a litany of woes, and the response is always “attention must be paid!”
Black lives matter. Attention must be paid. Loved ones are dying of the coronavirus terrified and alone. Attention must be paid.
Six hundred children, ripped from their parents, who cannot be found. Attention must be paid.
Thousands of workers have lost their jobs, can’t pay their bills, face eviction, wait in miles-long lines of cars for enough food to make it through the week. Attention must be paid.
The discord and rancor in our political situation has been ratcheted up to new and frightening levels. Attention must be paid.
Our earth is being burned and plundered, its future a desperate matter. Attention must be paid.
I know you have more to add. This litany could be so much longer.
Attention must be paid. But how do we see clearly in the darkness and the smoke? How can we hear over the blaring and wailing? How do we bring words of clarity, comfort, hope, and peace when the weight of human tragedy overwhelms and dispirits us–even as we practice social distancing? Shall we turn off the news and expect inner calm? How can we claim to be bringers of peace when we are in flight? How can we be lights in darkness when we walk in shrouds of sorrow and fear ourselves?
The virus keeps us housebound. But withdrawal will not do. Attention must be paid. Our frustration builds. We aspire to respond with the energy and engagement of Dominic, joyful friar, preacher of Grace. So we must observe him as he takes on the world at his feet, and listens to the trouble and the sorrow of Languedoc, its peasants oppressed by poverty and disease and their fields ruined by the clashes of local overlords, vulnerable to prophets of questionable Christian practice. We must join him in his nights of tears.
His tears rose out of these encounters and his awareness of the little he could offer. He took it all in, suffered it, ached with its burden, and prostrated himself before God, allowing God the freedom to transform his pain for others into Words of Grace.
Contemplative engagement. This is Dominic’s gift to us, the watching and waiting, allowing the “muchness” of it all to enter us, then placing the agonies of our brothers and sisters, our own failings and our helpless hearts before God. And in the darkness granting God the space to transform and send us as Words of Grace and Peace. There is so much more to see and hear and grasp: God active in the past, present and future of humankind. We preach the mystery of Incarnation. Christ has come, is coming, will come–enfleshing God’s passion for entanglement with a groaning creation and a searching humankind. Whatever our limitations we cannot sidestep God’s engagement with us. Attention must be paid! Advent calls us into darkness and out of darkness to witness to the Christening of our world.