There’s a part of me that’s inclined to think Isaiah might profit (ahem!) from spending a little time in my neighborhood.
The thought occurred…as I chewed on the consoling words we hear in the first reading this week, on the second Sunday of Advent. Isaiah encourages us to look toward a time of almost unimaginable promise – a land where:
…the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; [and] the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them.
That’s decidedly NOT how things went down a couple of days ago, just a few houses away from our front yard. Rake in hand yet again, I was tidying things up around our landscaping when I took passing note of some dogs barking just down the way. No big deal, right? Not in my neighborhood anyway – where the woofing and yapping almost never cease (especially during the holiday package delivery season!)
Suddenly, things escalated. I realized I was hearing not just dogs barking, but a little boy screaming. A veritable dog fight had broken out – a young German Shepherd attacking two Schnauzers…whom a mother and her terrified son were doing their best to defend.
Things had calmed down a bit by the time I reluctantly wandered into the fray…but human emotions remained raw, the dogs’ owners mutually angered and upset by the incident. So I found myself unexpectedly serving as a mini-peacemaker – offering a simple word or two of encouragement. Maybe that helped, I don’t know.
Later, though, I reflected about what I had just witnessed: There was absolutely no love lost among these canines. They might be of the same species, but in that moment they certainly meant each other harm.
And in a sense, that’s nature’s way, isn’t it? Dogs will be dogs.
So c’mon, Isaiah: Let’s get real. Surely, it’s utter foolishness to believe the leopard will ever lie down with the lamb.
But St. Paul, I noticed, seems to be of a kindred spirit with Isaiah this week. In the passage we hear from Paul’s letter to the Romans, he prays:
May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one voice glorify…God.
Endurance and encouragement. These are Advent graces, are they not?
Endurance is required of us, simply because stuff happens. Vicious, perhaps even unspeakable stuff.
And encouragement is needed, too. We need to bear Christ to one another – even (and especially) in response to viciousness.
This week’s events reminded me of Isaiah’s promise – and the silent grace I witnessed a few months back in the Holy Land. In the village of Abu Ghosh, just outside Jerusalem, there stands a Crusader-era church – St. Mary of the Resurrection Abbey. It’s notable for the frescoes of holy men and women that adorn the walls…frescoes viciously desecrated by a later generation of religious fanatics.
A part of me was angered by what I saw there – the evidence of hate and intolerance I saw inscribed on those sacred walls. But then I noticed the young Benedictine nun, quietly at work near the altar in the church.
There was no anger in her demeanor. Despite proof of pain and injustice on every wall around her, she didn’t seem the least bit interested in taking up a dog-fight in response. Instead, her weapons — her armor — spoke of endurance and encouragement.
And just as Isaiah promises, it was a beautiful thing to behold.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.