Third Sunday of Advent: Gaudete Sunday. The cry of John the Baptist struck me particularly today. I can't remember how often I have heard this and read it, but like all things of faith, it became fresh again when I needed to hear it. "I baptise you with water ... He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire." Funny how I never figured out before today that if we're being baptised with fire, presumably that means we will get burnt, and burns hurt. The liturgy of today talked about a baptism of suffering and repentance - not presuming that everyone is supposed to hurt, but that hurts will come in life, and it's how we deal with them that matters. If we let ourselves get all bitter and twisted up by them, looking always for vengeance and retribution, we will end up hurting ourselves and others. If we let it go, repent, turn away from the need for revenge, we will find peace.
Reflecting on this in my current state of pain is interesting. I didn't ask for this. I didn't want it. But I know it has changed me. I think I am a bit more compassionate to others in pain now because I have had pain of my own. I understand weakness from my own weakness. I understand the shame and humiliation of a chronic illness from the depths of my own; the longing for healing and the despair and darkness that go hand in hand with pain - but the need, the absolute need, to hold on to faith - faith for a healing, but also faith just simply to live each day, to go on, to keep walking, keep hoping, even if the hope is a very tiny one. Even if the hope is for a good death, like those friends I had in the hospice who were hoping to die well. Momento mori.
We lit today's candle for the love we share and the love that enfolds us, but the love that wants us to grow up and won't protect us from the pain of the fire, because we will be stronger for the journey because of it.