During this season of holiday tunes, I always listen for "O Come, O Come Emmanuel." Emmanuel, God-with-us, is my favorite name of God. For me it captures both the sheer, infinite nature of the Divine and his loving closeness to us. How amazing that a being so majestic is with and for us, is with and for me. "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" is a people's deep petition to be rescued from a world of loneliness, mourning, and darkness. "Rejoice! Rejoice!" the song tells us. For "Emmanuel shall come." Together we remember what it feels like to hope for a salvation greater than anything we can imagine and to wait in great expectation once again for God to come to us. Emmanuel is coming.
As a Jesuit-educated student, and now serving with Jesuit Volunteer Corps, I have spent the past four and a half years learning to find God in all things. Though I usually do not remember to notice God in the moment, when I do look for the holiness in the midst of ordinary life, I always seem to find it. I have always believed that Emmanuel is here. God is with us.
One of the residents at Joseph's House passed away this week, a man whose presence had been a source of joy and laughter for everyone. He was estranged from his wife for years, but their friendship was strong. In the last two weeks of his life she came and so beautifully fulfilled her marital vow to love and to hold in sickness and in health that she earned the respect of everyone around her. Though our resident had hurt her in ways that prevented them from living with one another, her compassion and gentleness with her husband in his last days was a powerful example of forgiveness. In the hours I spent showing her how to care for her husband in his illness, she taught me how to love even when carrying scars. Emmanuel was with us.
It is easy to find God in all things when those things are good, but at the funeral it was like trying to find Waldo. The funeral brought out the pain of family members and friends who lashed out at one another. Sitting behind our resident's wife, my co-workers and I grieved for the woman he had loved and the undeserved hostility directed at her. Where is God amongst people who do not let old grievances go in order to recognize that everyone is hurting?
Later that day, we heard about the school shooting in Connecticut. My roommate, Marlena, is from Connecticut and has a brother in kindergarten. When news first started coming out, Marlena spent hours in miserable waiting. Where was the shooting? Was Nino there? Was he okay?
Nino's okay. The shooting was in a town far away from their home. Nino was happy and safe, completely unaware of the horror that happened at Sandy Hook Elementary. But 20 precious first-graders were not and neither were the seven adults who died alongside them or the hundreds of individuals who will be affected for years to come. As I read more about the tragedy in the newspaper, I could not stop the tears that accompanied my heartache. How my heart breaks for the families who are now missing a significant member of their lives at a time that should be filled with joy. How saddened am I, too, that this young shooter slipped through the cracks until he reached a point where he felt this was the only way to make an impact.
At Joseph's House we walk alongside death every day. Every person who comes through the door is on the path to dying and we willingly step in to make the journey gentler. But the deaths of those in Connecticut were accompanied by a violence that makes me feel faint with sorrow. How can God be found in this? Emmanuel, why were you not with us when we needed you? Why were you not here to save these children and the adults committed to their growth?
Once again, just as in the time of the songwriter of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel," the world finds itself weak from the burden of human brokenness that creates systems of loneliness, mourning, and darkness. Just as in those times, we realize that something has gone horribly wrong. Once again, society finds itself looking for salvation. There are so many questions as I try to find the truth in the midst of travesty. I am pretty certain of some things. I know that this is not the time for political bickering, and I am disgusted by those who are making this a divisive event. This is a tragedy for all. I know that mental health played a part in this tragedy and I feel even more motivated to pursue a career in psychology. But more importantly, I know that Emmanuel is here. I know that God is with us.
God was with that young principal who wanted learning to be academic and fun. God was with the teacher who told her students how much she loved them, because she thought that would be the last thing they heard, and that was the most important thing she wanted to teach them. God was with the other teacher who hid her students and when there was no room left for her, stepped into the hallway and sacrificed herself. I see the Divine in those moments. I am looking for it elsewhere. In the meantime, I will mourn this great loss, work for a more just future, and await the moment when we can all finally rejoice without loneliness, mourning, or darkness to taint the celebration.
Neshia is serving as a Compassionate Companion with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps at Joseph's House in Washington, DC. She also is an avid reader and can often be found in used bookstores happily inhaling that old book smell. Neshia sees God in her six housemates, footed onesie pajamas, rice, and those moments when it only takes one try to parallel park. Follow her on her blog from which this post is adapted.