“And, lo, the star which they saw in the east,
went before them, till it came and
stood over where the young child was.” -Matthew 2:9, NKJ
The first book I picked up in 2021 was Father Gregory Boyle’s second book Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship. A collection of stories and theological reflections on his time at Homeboy Industries, a ministry Boyle founded as a Jesuit priest that has grown to be the largest gang intervention program in the world is equal parts despairing, moving and hopeful. Which made it quite the fitting read to pick up as we celebrated epiphany and watched the tragic violence that took place at the US capitol the first week of the new year. Each page is filled with funny and thoughtful stories about the lives of the formerly incarcerated or gang initiated. Boyle has a way of taking a phrase or a moment and turning it just a quarter turn so that we might see that what he was holding all along in the lives of men and women was indeed a gem. Or as one of the homies shared upon his graduation “you are a diamond covered in dust, here you can brush the dust off.”
I am not going to lie, 2020 and the start of 2021 feels like everything is covered in dust. A thick, grimey layer of anger, frustration, disgust and grief over systemic racism, pandemic mismanagement and the consequences of growing economic divides. It seems so counter to the story of Epiphany that Christians celebrated the same day as the riot at the Capitol. The story of wisemen traveling by the light of a star that would lead them to the Christ child, God’s bright light of hope in the darkness. But then I remember, that I am only remembering the easy part of the story–the arrival, the discovery, the triumph of the wisemen’s journey. As much a part of this story as starlight is the dark shadow Herod cast upon the manger. And it wasn’t until I read Boyle this year that I realized that the story starts with an invitation to look or as Boyle points out:
“But lo–which is to say, look–right before your eyes,
the holy is happening, even if you are hesitant to believe it.”
Even if you are hesitant to believe it, the holy is happening. Yes, even in a pandemic the holy is happening. When the news can’t seem to get much worse, lo, the holy is happening. When our country’s history of systemic racism threatens to swallow us whole, lo, even if you are hesitant to believe it, the holy is happening. Even in grief, maybe even especially in grief, the holy is happening. Boyle reminded me of the string that ties together Epiphany and Ash Wednesday, ties together hope in the face of violence, thriving in the midst of oppression, joy in the midst of grief. On Ash Wednesday we are reminded our faith isn’t just about diamonds and starlight, it’s about dust and darkness too. It’s about being hesitant and fearful and uncertain and yet still being willing to look up and look around at what holiness might be in our midst. Ash Wednesday reminds us of the wisdom of the homie who said “you are a diamond covered in dust, here you can brush the dust off.” Here in the story of Christian faith you can be a dusty ass diamond. Here you can be seen as beloved by a God that loves you, mortal and created and here you can be dusty and deserving.
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