The Center for Interfaith Relations is revisiting Festival of Faiths catalogues and related publications in search of insight, wisdom and inspiration. Our hope is that these written words will spur meaningful reflection and serve as a beacon of hope amid challenging times.

In Labor and In Rest 

By Josina Guess, as printed in Sojourners, Vol. 49 No. 11

When I was in labor with my third child, my older sister was bewildered by my pain. As I walked the hall of our two-story row house in southwest Philadelphia, seeking moments of comfort between birth pool and bed, couch and floor, she said to me, “But, you’ve already done this before. Why is it so hard?”

“I haven’t birthed this baby!” I cried out to her. Then I settled into a deep silence, preparing myself for the next wave, the next earth-shaking moan.

Our souls are crying out this Advent of 2020. We want to call this season the coldest, these times the most hostile, this ache unbearable.

And it is true. We are saturated with the names of the dead, no longer shocked by callous leaders or the collective amnesia that refuses responsibility for ongoing systems of oppression.

Though history and our theology will remind us that empires fall, that pandemics cease, that justice will prevail, such awareness doesn’t diminish the pain of raw grief, this collective lament. We haven’t celebrated Christmas this year; how can we even begin?

I do not know how hope still shivers through my bones. I do not know how to unclench rage-tight teeth. I do not know how to look at this war-soaked, warming planet and believe that the Author of Peace is weeping and raging with us and making straight these deeply crooked and corrupt paths.

Yet the life within awakens my imperative to push, to breathe, to embrace hope as an active verb. For Christ to be born in us, this year, this day, this moment, requires that we be active, engaged, and moving beyond what we believe we are able to do. Shifting and moaning with sighs too deep for words.  

I had not really thought of the sacramental nature of this season until I read “The Sacrament of Christmas” by Howard Thurman, in The Mood of Christmas and Other Celebrations. Each stanza begins with the phrase “I make.” 

I make an act of faith toward all [hu]mankind,
Where doubts would linger and suspicion brood.  

I make an act of joy toward all sad hearts,
Where laughter pales and tears abound. … 

I make an act of love toward friend and foe,
Where trust is weak and hate burns bright. 

I make a deed to God of all my days – 
And look out on life with quiet eyes.  

It is tempting to make a saint out of anyone who survives the horrors of U.S. apartheid with soul intact, with grace pouring from mouth and heart like shimmering halos. Born in 1899, Howard Thurman bore witness to the lynching era and emerged a prophetic thought leader whose teaching served as a midwife to the civil rights movement.  

Every time I gave birth, I thought of the women who had come before me. Some die in the process, others bear lifelong injury, and other make it.  

I carried them all with me in my body, just as I carry everyone who did not survive this year or the years before. We who survive deep pain don’t need to be anyone’s hero, but we can give someone courage, in that moment, to take another breath.  

Already the hounds of consumerism are nipping at our heels. How will we answer when asked how we plan to celebrate Christmas this year? With an unusually empty December calendar, stripped of pageantry, concerts, parades, or even retreats, we could learn to be makers with the One who is asking again, this year, this moment, to be born in us today. 

Reprinted with permission from Sojourners,