“I am a frayed and nibbled survivor in a fallen world…”
Last week I spent a day staring at the mod ceiling lights in a hospital room. I don’t like needles, IV bags, pokes, prods, plastic caps, flimsy slippers or lunch served on plastic trays. Everything about the sterilized medical environment produces a mild feeling of anxiety in me. So it was just as well that a nurse injected a little shot of something to calm me down before wheeling me into the operating room. I got a hazy glimpse of the surgical team in their mint green scrubs hovering over me in the operating room before the anesthesia drowned out my consciousness.
The surgery wasn’t a big deal, I promise. It was a laparoscopic procedure that, thankfully, appears to have gone perfectly according to plan. But every medical intervention has a way of reminding me that I’m frayed. Day after day, my life is being nibbled away. Time inevitably erodes my existence on earth, and I never feel that truth more heavily than when I walk in the doors of a hospital and exchange my street clothes for one of those starchy white gowns.
While I was lying in bed feeling the anesthesia ebb out of my veins, I wasn’t in the mood to turn on the television, so I read instead. And I read a book that feels like a conversation with an old (and exceedingly brilliant) friend. Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, manages to walk a tightrope between the acknowledging the savagery of nature and admiring its dizzying beauty, and so it was a good read for a room utterly devoid of organic radiance.
I found myself coming back to one passage, in particular, again and again…
“I am a frayed and nibbled survivor in a fallen world, and I am getting along. I am aging and eaten and have done my share of eating too. I am not washed and beautiful, in control of a shining world in which everything fits, but instead am wandering awed about on a splintered wreck I’ve come to care for, whose gnawed trees breathe a delicate air, whose bloodied and scarred creatures are my dearest companions, and whose beauty beats and shines not in its imperfections but overwhelmingly in spite of them, under the wind-rent clouds, upstream and down.”
I’m not sure it’s possible to say anything truer about living than this. Frayed and nibbled, aging and eaten—don’t you feel it too? Annie Dillard was only 27 when she wrote these words—a full decade (and a little more) younger than I am now—but even as a young woman she sensed her mortality. My attention frays, my body sags, some of my hopes are nibbled at the edges. And lately, this deluge of #MeToo revelations—all these tragic testimonies of abuse, one aggression after another—remind me that we’re all treading water together on a “splintered wreck” of a world. We wither like grass, laments the Psalmist…and yet…
We still wander awed, says Annie Dillard, because this world is dear. And the people in it are beloved. We were made for this word, even in its splintered state. As we take in the ravages of our frayed and nibbled state, we don’t long for an ending. No, we long for renewal.
This is why Advent is such a powerful season—because when we long for the Lord to come, we’re praying not for an end, but for a beginning. We’re longing for this world to be made new, for earth to be united with heaven, for our wrinkles, creases, and salty tears to be wiped away forever. We’re looking forward to the day our nibbled places are filled, and life is breathed into our dry bones. We’re waiting for the biting and gnawing and taking that so defines too many relationships to be overcome with restoration and blessing.
In the meantime, the IV drips. The fluorescent lights hum. And I read on.
“’Our God shall come,’ it says in a Psalm for Advent,” Annie Dillard writes, “‘and shall not keep silence; there shall go before him a consuming fire, and a mighty tempest shall be stirred up around him.’ …Not only does something come if you wait, but it pours over you like a waterfall, like a tidal wave. You wait in all naturalness without expectation or hope, emptied, translucent, and that which comes rocks and topples you; it will shear, loose, launch, winnow, grind. …This is the real world, not the world gilded and pearled.”
This Advent season as we wait here together in our real wreck of a world, I pray we’d be rocked and toppled through an encounter with God made flesh. And I pray that the promise that one day all things will be made new would launch us into a new year lit all through with hope. May the weary world rejoice!
And if you feel frayed and nibbled, may you be renewed in heart and soul. May you raise your eyes, confident that “yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”
I’d love to hear how you and your family celebrate Advent. What are your favorite resources and traditions?
Here are a few things we have planned for Advent this year:
Each evening after dinner, we’ll be reading through these scriptures from the Book of Common Prayer. Last night the kids helped me cut out the references for each day and we tucked them alongside chocolates and gummy candies into this sweet set of Advent boxes from Ikea.
I love WH Auden’s Christmas play For the Time Being. I’ll be reading it again, but it’s still a little too tough for the kids. So as a family, we’ll read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.
On Christmas Eve, my husband will no doubt bust out the Cajun Night Before Christmas and read it in the best Boudreaux and Thibodeaux accent he can muster. It may not be the most spiritual moment of our holiday, but it’ll be a whole lot of fun.