Editor’s note: Enuma Okoro is a public speaker and lecturer on faith, spirituality and identity. She is author of three books, including her latest, ” Silence: And Other Surprising Invitations of Advent” and writes a blog, Reluctant Pilgrim.
By Enuma Okoro, Special to CNN
(CNN) – Before I am an American, I am a Christian.
This order of self-identifying does not in any way negate the gifts and responsibilities that come with my being an American, a Nigerian-American at that.
But it brings me face to face with the tension of claiming my faith identity above all else in a culture that’s more comfortable glossing over challenging – and sometimes painful – elements of spiritual narratives in exchange for what can be mass produced and neatly packaged in a box.
While many are in the midst of Christmas cheer, I am still in the season of Advent, a time of waiting and preparation for the birth of Jesus Christ.
For Christians, it is a time to mark a new year, a beginning. It is a time that I contemplate the pending miracle of Christmas.
The Advent invitation to silence, to open lament, to hope, to trust, even when it seems foolish, that God keeps God’s promises is a time to remember who we are. Especially now, after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Advent helps me remember we are all to be a part of the healing of the world.
My fear is that most of us miss the true meaning of this time because of our American cultural tendency to mine the sacred for what can be mass consumed.
We also live in a “feel good” culture in which we strive to make ourselves as comfortable as possible.
Advent is not that.
I have been dwelling uncomfortably in the resounding silence of a God, who sometimes calls us to trust and remain faithful when there are no more words to speak or hear. And I cannot help but think about the lives lost recently in Newtown, Connecticut.
Silence can be terribly uncomfortable. It can bring us into intimate proximity with our unhealed spiritual and emotional wounds, unmet desires and longings. But it can also invite us into the hard but beautiful work of acknowledging, honoring and attending those wounds, desires, and longings – in ourselves and in one another.
Silence beckons us to trust that being our best selves is not determined by our levels of comfort or by our own resources and abilities. Instead, it is largely determined by our posture before the God of humanity.
And our posture before God often determines our posture before one another.
I have not been participating in the sensory overload of Christmas celebrations that these days seem to begin the moment Halloween ends. Sometimes, I feel like the Grinch who stole Christmas. I am silent when others are shopping and singing and stringing lights.
That’s because my identity as a Christian tells me that it is not yet time to be festive. I am waiting for the birth of Christ, the word born of Mary.
I am reminded of all aspects of who I am, filtered through the lens of being a child of God.
In silent reflection, my view of the world becomes more focused.
I am reminded that for centuries, Christians have been attending to the silence that invites the world to wait on the things that only God can complete.
Every year, we wait for the very same thing. That wait calls us to expect new life to break forth, in the most unlikely places, in spaces from which we believe nothing miraculous or redeeming could ever emerge.
Every year, our waiting reminds us of who we are: children of God, regardless of our faith traditions, regardless of our countries of origin.
This is a season of painful waiting, as we lament the present and hope for a different future, one that we trust is being birthed. Perhaps on this Christmas.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Enuma Okoro.