Through the heartfelt mercies of our God,
God’s Sunrise will break in upon us,
Shining on those in the darkness,
those sitting in the shadow of death,
Then showing us the way, one foot at a time,
down the path of peace…
In the worst hour of the worst season
of the worst year of a whole people
a man set out from the workhouse with his wife.
He was walking — they were both walking — north.
She was sick with famine fever and could not keep up.
He lifted her and put her on his back.
He walked like that west and west and north.
Until at nightfall under freezing stars they arrived.
From Quarantine, by Eavan Boland
And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said “The words of the prophets
Are written on subway walls
And tenement halls
And whispered in the sounds of silence”
“Sound of Silence,” by Paul Simon
My parents listened to a lot of folk songs, little ditties with harmonies, acoustic guitars and tambourines. Years would pass – decades and lifetimes, really – before I understood them to be protest anthems.
Songs like “If I Had a Hammer” or “The Sound of Silence”, when properly understood, seemed the perfect soundtrack to the tumultuous ‘60s I’d heard so much about:
I’d hammer out danger
I’d hammer out a warning
I’d hammer out love…
Though my parents were too young to partake back then, the beautiful refrain of protest rang out, even to unpracticed ears, even to the meek and broken-hearted.
These are dark days, which anyone can see, despite the neon gods in our midst. These gods are ubiquitous, sinister in their shininess, reflections of an identity we keep hidden within.
But the truth is: we still look for saviours, neon or otherwise. Anything will do, really. If the voice is loud enough, the suit slick enough, we’ll follow them—right to the edge of an all-too-flat world of our making; the practice of fools, tripping over one another into the abyss.
John the Baptizer entered such a bleak world. God is never absent, but may as well have been for the silence felt. This world is echoed in Eavan Boland’s “Quarantine”, which transcribes the journey of a man and woman fleeing from Irish famine in a dangerous act of hope. Together they walked one foot at a time, until he carried her, until they died in a final act of love, of faith, of sacrifice:
But her feet were held against his breastbone.
The last heat of his flesh was his last gift to her.
If they’d stayed, they would still have died, as more than a million did between 1845 and 1852.
If John had stayed, home with his parents instead of entering the wilderness of ministry, he might’ve lived longer, safer. He might’ve been a priest like his father, testifying to the holiness of God in another way.
But like the hungry, he set out, one foot at a time, to proclaim the coming salvation. His song was a rallying cry, calling all to repentance. He paid for it with his life—not only in that final, brutal act of his death, but in the everyday practices of [dis]obedience.
Maybe that feels like too much, so let me offer you Anna. She who sat and waited, fasting and praying. She, too, practiced what the Lord asked her to do, and received the reward of meeting Jesus face to face (Luke 2:36-38).
“His promise is sure; he will come,” says Fleming Rutledge. “We make ready for him… by lighting whatever little lights the Lord has put in front of us, no light too small to be used by him, action in waiting, pointing ahead, looking to Christ and for Christ.”
To wait, to leave, to walk, to sing. It’s user’s choice; which one will yours be?
Karen Huber writes and frets over culture, faith, and parenting abroad. Originally from Kansas, she and her family now reside in Dublin, Ireland, where they work in arts ministry and community restoration both within and without the walls of the local church. You can connect with her on Twitter or Instagram.