Sometimes liturgy puts words in the mouth of the worshiper that are more true than the worshipper himself is aware.

Immediately following his conversation with Brother Christophe, Brother Christian chants:

Like parched earth I stand before you, Lord.

Oh Lord, hear my prayer listen to my cry for mercy in your faithfulness, answer me enter not into judgement with your servant for no man living is righteous before you

His brothers respond:

The enemy prosecutes my soul he has smitten my life to the ground he has made me dwell in darkness with those long dead my spirit grows faint within me my heart within me, dismayed

Christian continues the liturgical conversation with the plea:

Answer me quickly oh Lord my spirit fails. Do not hide your face from me lest I be like them who fall into the pit.

There is no shame in doubt and uncertainty, no guilt in fear and despair. If we live in the real world, these are at times inevitable human emotions.

Twenty minutes before this monastic chant, Brother Christophe is seen working alone outside. Silently and gently he removes broken shards of glass from a cold frame in the monastery garden. It is a picture of the monks’ reality. The frame that keeps the glass in place may hold, but the glass itself is fractured into vicious shards of suffering.

It may be that the true nobility of the human condition is the willingness to be present to pain, to hold it without flinching.

The infant whose birth we prepare to celebrate through this season of Advent will grow into a man who will travel through the darkest valley of suffering. He is described in the words of the prophet Isaiah as one who

was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering.
 (Isaiah 53:3, 4a)

Jesus did not shrink from “suffering”. Like the monks of Tibhirine who followed his path, Jesus walked forward across the broken shards of glass that are an inevitable part of life in this fractured human community. This is the painful journey of love to which we commit ourselves in the sombre season of Advent.

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