Advent: On Light and Seeing Poverty

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; Upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.

You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing, As they rejoice before you as at the harvest, as men make merry when dividing spoils. For the yoke that burdened them, the pole on their shoulder, And the rod of their taskmaster you have smashed, as on the day of Midian. For every boot that tramped in battle, every cloak rolled in blood, will be burned as fuel for flames.

For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.

His dominion is vast and forever peaceful, From David’s throne, and over his kingdom, which he confirms and sustains By judgment and justice, both now and forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this!

. . .

From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Isaiah, Matthew)

One of my favorite bloggers lives in an area of very real poverty. A while ago another commenter asked her whether it was visible or the sort of hidden poverty which one has to search out. She replied that it is the obvious sort, but I cannot help wondering how many others could live where she does and not see it at all.

It also made me think of the various places that I have lived, and the relative visibility of the poor anywhere.

When we were first married, we lived in a place which should have been excruciating for any Christian. We found an apartment which was unusually cheap for the area and allowed my husband to walk to work. We lived with all of the benefits of wealth with little of the costs.

The next town over people went without food. Our parish had everything. Its sister parish, less than five miles away, had little. Our priest would thank someone for their generous gift which allowed the purchase of incredibly expensive new altar vessels at the same time as the cracked paint on the walls of the other parish would fall onto their broken kneelers.

A year later we moved to a place where the poverty was impossible to ignore, because we shared it, even if we had too much potential to really live it. I eventually learned to not even hint about it on my blog, for I was too weak to handle the incredible responses of those who truly believed that the wealth around them was typical everywhere in our great nation.

Next we moved to a town thought of as “bad” by outsiders, and “good enough” by locals, because we all knew how much worse things could be. Our closest neighbors had four children in their one bedroom apartment. I knew that they were safe and had enough space.

Now we live in a much nicer place–a place where I can walk down the street to my apartment alone without people thinking that I must be a prostitute. And it is so easy to be blind, to walk in darkness, ignoring the poverty that surrounds us.

Two mornings each week, I get in our car and drive past the home improvement store. I drive because I can. I could take the bus, but that would require me to get up an hour earlier and I would rather sleep. And so I sit comfortably in my car as a group of men sits at the edge of the parking lot, waiting.

Like the parable of the workers, these men are waiting for work for the day. I don’t like to think about it. I don’t like to think about how I benefit from their suffering. I don’t like to think about the fact that I am part of the systemic evil which grants them so little protection if someone decides to not pay them. I don’t like to think about the fact that they can’t find any jobs, let alone ones that use the full range of their gifts.

I cannot fully ignore these men, but I act as if I never saw them. And I am quite confident that I have successfully ignored the vast majority of the material suffering around me. I walk in darkness.

During Advent we pray for the light of Christ to shine on us, a people in darkness. Yet, whenever the light comes, it comes with the call to repentance.

Light brings rejoicing, but we are not seeking the trivial celebration of one who has never suffered. Instead we seek the joy of those liberated from the yoke of selfishness, from the weight of living for ourselves while others suffer.

And so we pray: come, Lord Jesus! Fill us with your light and free us from our sins.

Advent , , ,


  1. We give light a happy-happy symbolic meaning, but light casts the ugly into visibility as well as the beautiful.

    I think about this often when I consider the public school district we’re in. –your “thought of as “bad” by outsiders, and “good enough” by locals, because we all knew how much worse things could be” sentence made me think of it. There are people all over my city who won’t consider moving into our area of town, even though the neighborhood is great, because the elementary school is considered not-so-great, because it includes some not-so-great areas as well. Yet I’m bowled over by how good a school it is. Maybe I’d be flattened altogether by how good those *other* schools are…but it bothers me a little that people insulate themselves like that, rule things out. Frankly, we never intended to send our kids to this school; we shrugged off the school thing b/c we expected all our kids to attend Catholic school. Didn’t turn out that way, and I’m glad, because it’s opening my eyes.

    • Rae

      Sometimes I think the Holy Spirit tricks us into participating in our communities in ways we wouldn’t naturally… your situation with the school reminded me of that.

  2. Ha ha, I am still laughing because when I first started reading the post, I found myself thinking, “Oooh, I want to read one of Rae’s favorite bloggers who writes about poverty!”
    I guess you can say I am one of my favorite bloggers. :)

    Great post, btw!

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