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On Bated Breath

December 23, 2020
woman with lighted candles on her mouth

By The Rev. Breana Van Velzen

In “An Advent Lament in the Pandemic”, Michael Luo succinctly and poignantly recalls both Christian history and Christian theological witness to lament the current state of Christendom—not martyrs and persecution, but the fatalities wrought through politicizing a pandemic, and the majority of Christians in the U.S. continuing to support the atrocities in the detention centers, police brutality, the war on the impoverished, and the white Christian nationalism fueling it all. 

It is, indeed, a time to lament. While there are churches and gathered communities of Christ’s body doing good works in this season, while there are justice workers and healers working tirelessly for the good of all, the solstice was an especially long one this year. We are surrounded by death, war, and disease. The longest night of the longest year seems to be reaching into our hearts, and we do not remember how to lament well.

In lamenting well, we would cry out in our anguish. We would call upon God as witness and deliverer. We would call for repentance—for a turning from that which is evil toward that which is love. We would always end in praise.

For God, for joy, for love, always comes in the morning. God is with us, Emmanuel. Advent is a season of waiting, on bated breath, for God to arrive. Some of us wait joy-filled, and others practice a deep discipline of hope—a hope that allows us to lament, a hope that allows us to keep working for peace in our communities, and a hope that imagines a future in which the kin-dom dwells in all places, and there is no longer suffering. There is space for our lament and our joy. There is space for us to be held accountable as Christians and to call our siblings back into God’s all-inclusive love. There is space in the held breath as we await the good news of Jesus the Christ, that space between the inhale and exhale, where we are reminded that God breathed into us our first breath, and gave us life. 

Let us lament. Let us turn from ways that harm others. Let us give voice, action, and support to those justice workers in our communities. Let us become who we are meant to be. And let us not forget the life that we are given from an incarnated God, fully human, and fully divine. 


The Rev. van Velzen is the Community Minister at Duke Chapel, present at the intersection of faith and justice on behalf of the Chapel. In her role, she seeks to create opportunities for growing in faith and knowledge among students, staff, and community members.

Rev. van Velzen is an ordained Baptist minister and holds a master of divinity from Duke Divinity School. She also holds a master of social work degree from UNC Chapel Hill and a bachelor of arts in English education from UNC Wilmington. Her passions include advocacy at the intersections of racial, economic, and environmental justice, and hospitality. These passions led her to work in faith-based advocacy, financial coaching, affordable housing, and immigration reform.

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