Working, as I do, in inner city Belfast it is sometimes hard to see the impinging force of the resurrection in the day to day. Yet there are moments when its light leaks through the cracks. I remember on a Thursday in November, after the clocks had turned and it got dark at 5pm, watching three builders from our construction site, wearing their hi-viz jackets, pushing the stalled car of a woman which was holding up rush-hour traffic. Was that resurrection light resisting the darkness and death of the world? A glorious grace-filled act?
I watch people trying to live dignified lives in the midst of poverty. Hiding their illiteracy. Trying to feed their kids a healthy diet on a low income. Extending the warmth of hospitality to someone normally considered an enemy.
I sometimes think that inner city people wear their lives on their sleeves in ways that would appall us polite suburbanites. We, after all, have large gardens and driveways which separate us from our neighbours and from life on the streets. But do these hard-won, apparent benefits of the successful life also rob us of resurrection moments?
And do they also deny us the capability of encountering incarnation on Christmas Day, with anything like the wonder of the shepherds or of meeting resurrection on Easter Sunday without anything approaching the wonder and power of the disciples and the women?
And does my lack of noticing also mean that I lack the spiritual resources to survive in this bullying world?
I doubt that I could have had the capability to lately survive radical disease, unremitting pain, and the shadow of death had I not spent those earlier years in the Harlem ghetto, discerned there something of the moral power of death, and learned, from neighbours, clients, and Harlem inhabitants at large, something of the triumph of life that human beings can enter and celebrate despite death’s ubiquity and vitality. Harlem is the scene in which I first comprehended the veracity of the resurrection—and that prepared me, more than any other single thing, for devastating illness and pain. Had I known only what I heard about the resurrection in Sunday School or from pulpits or from within the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant ethos, I believe that I would have surely died…resurrection is verified where rebellion against the demonic thrives.
I do not ignore or gainsay the ambiguity of the witness to the resurrection in revolution. I am, however, affirming that in the black ghetto there is a resistance to death as social purpose, a perseverance in living as human beings, a transcendence of the demonic which is at least an image of resurrection which exposes and challenges the reign of death in this society and which thus, benefits all human beings.
Harlem, Rebellion and Resurrection, Christian Century, 1970
So the life-giving question: where, this Advent, can I encounter rebellion against the demonic?