Advent: Hope (A Surprise)

Advent catches me off guard every year. Today, I found it in the Book of Mormon.

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Advent catches me off guard every year. Maybe because it is a solitary sort of observance for me, as neither my son nor husband are particularly interested in it (they have other, less formal, ways of keeping their focus on Christ this time of year), or maybe because I expect it to start later than it does, or maybe because I’m always a little unaware of myself in relation to the passage of time. Regardless, right about the time of year I start thinking, “Gosh, is it dark already?” Advent arrives. Appropriate, no?

A few friends of mine posted their Advent lighting on Sunday. I thought, “Ah, it’s that time of year, of course.” I had forgotten, as usual. It was a pleasant surprise. My friends are observing “hope” this week. They’ve all had pretty difficult things happen this year (2016, you are the worst), and seeing them reflect on the virtue of Hope this week was inspiring. So I gave their posts a little thumbs up and moved on.

Today, I was surprised by advent during my scripture reading. I thought it might be nice to study some accounts of the Savior’s birth, and I encountered hope there. I don’t know why I was surprised by it. It’s right there in the song: “A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.” I mean, it’s not scripture, but it’s close, right? But I had forgotten, as one does. Majesty and humility, I remembered, glory, joy, and salvation, but hope slipped my mind entirely. As it does.

Anyway, today I read the account of Christ’s birth as related in the Book of Mormon, in the first chapter of 3 Nephi. The Christians are having a rough time. The people around them think they’re bonkers. A while back, a prophet went around saying Christ would be born by a certain time, and here were all these signs that he was going to be born. The signs appeared, but not THE sign. So the unbelievers mocked, which would be bad enough, except then they decided that if THE sign had not appeared by a certain date, they were just going to kill all the followers of Christ. Na na na na boo boo, I guess.

So their leader, Nephi, is distressed. Things are looking grim. He pours out his soul in prayer. We aren’t given his words, but I’m sure you can imagine what they might be like. I’m sure we’ve all had similar prayers. I’m guessing it was something along the lines of “Please oh please oh please help,” maybe mixed with, “I don’t understand,” and “Why is this happening to us when we have done everything you said?” I’ve prayed all of those prayers.

And Christ comes to him, as He always does, and offers Nephi hope. “Lift up your head and be of good cheer,” He says, “for behold, the time is at hand, and on this night shall the sign be given, and on the morrow come I into the world.” Which, now that I think about it, is basically what He always says: “Don’t worry, I’m coming.”

And guys, get this: THE sign? Is a night with no darkness. How perfect is that? How appropriate and fitting, that the Light of the World should be signified by literal light? In addition to the new star in the heavens, this light brightens the whole Nephite city. “For behold, at the going down of the sun, there was no darkness; and the people began to be astonished because there was no darkness when the night came.”

And this is the promise and the hope Christ leaves with us, that when our Night comes, we can be filled with Light instead of Darkness. Even though the people in the Book of Mormon had been told what to expect, when the sign came, many of them fell to earth, just dropped dead (but not actually dead) from the shock of it. Hope surprises us. It surprises us by showing that the Lord keeps His promises. It surprises us by keeping watch with us all night long. It surprises us simply by showing up, an unexpected friend at a rather dull and uncomfortable party.

Hope isn’t going to sneak up on me again this year, though. I know it’s there now. Shepherds, wise men, Nephites all watched. I’m watching now, too.

Skinship

This is my new favorite word.

Stolen from my sister's facebook page.

“Skinship” is a Japanese word (sukinshippu?) that is used to describe how Westerners are physical in their interactions with each other, at least in comparison with Japanese culture. I was introduced to this word by a woman who lived in Japan for a few years and who keeps in close contact with many of the people she met there. (If any of you Awesome Readers are familiar with “skinship,” feel free to leave a comment telling me all about it.)  This word expresses a correlation between friendship and skin-to-skin contact. It is an adjective (as far as I understand), as in “You Americans are so skinship.”

Since I was introduced to this word by a woman I know from church, of course we discussed this word in terms of our beliefs. Many of our ordinances and much of ritual involves not only corporeality, but shared corporeality. When someone is given a blessing, hands are placed on that person’s head. When someone is baptized, they are held in a sort of formal embrace as they are buried in the water and then lifted out. The sacrament, our central, weekly ordinance, involves taking the symbol of Christ’s body inside our own. The skinship element of our ritual points to the kind of relationship we seek with Christ. I want an intensely intimate relationship with God. I don’t want to give him the “what’s up” nod in passing. I don’t want to shake hands, once, firmly. Like Nephi, I want to be “encircled about eternally in the arms of his love” (2 Nephi 1:15). I want to be “skinship” with Christ.

I think this extends to the way we view each other. In America, our racism is basically focused on skin color. People in other places manage to create and reify divisons amongst themselves in other ways (Northern Ireland comes to mind, where racism is both an issue of who your ancestors were as well as what you believe), but we’re pretty straightforward here. Historically, we’ve decided that white=good and dark=bad, and we’ve placed human beings along that continuum. I’m merely being descriptive here. The notion of “skinship,” though, perhaps combined with my Christianity, reminds me that we should love each other not regardless of our skin, or in spite of our skin, but including our skin. Katie Gibson has talked a lot on her blog about being seen, and I’m so glad she has. But now that I know about this new word, I feel like it’s just as important to be touched, to be a physical being in a physical reality with other physical beings. Studies have shown that skin-to-skin contact between a newborn baby and its mother has a measurably soothing effect on the child. Sometimes it’s nice to be jostled on the bus, to feel the push of a crowd, to have someone tap you on the shoulder.  Even when people are impolite– an accidental bump through a doorway– touch reminds us that we are not alone. “Hello,” a nudge says. “I am a human being. I see you are a human being as well. Would you kindly take your turn at the front of the line so we can all get out of here sooner?” Touch just makes the universe smaller, more intimate, and less frightening.

I understand that some people are less physically demonstrative than others. I know that skinship is not necessarily a virtue. But I know myself well enough by now to know that I am so skinship, and this is not necessarily a bad thing. I think Walt Whitman would approve. Now, who wants a hug?