Every Advent I return to my ritual of asking the question, “What does Christmas mean to me this year?”
Richard Rohr’s book, The Universal Christ, helped me put words to the celebration of the coming of Jesus. In Rohr’s view, Jesus’s birth was the second incarnation. The first incarnation was when God entered the physical world in the creation of the universe. The work of Advent is to open my heart to the Universal Christ who calls me to celebrate this connection with the divine mystery. Sometimes it feels like the movie, Groundhog Day, where the main character begins the same day over and over again, learning something each time, until finally he gets the message of how he is to live that allows him to break free and live his new life. This is the moment of transformation which, I believe, is the second coming of Jesus we are waiting for. Here I am back at the beginning of Advent another time but not the same person I was last year.
The atmosphere of this pandemic, which just keeps getting worse, seems to give this Advent a new meaning. There is a lot of reflection these days, indicating that this is a time to rethink everything – capitalism, democracy, the imbalance of the rich and poor in our economic system, racism and the mission of the Christian church. This is a short list of problems that are surfacing for a serious re-think.
I led a Listening Circle just before Advent began and used a poem, Old Maps No Longer Work by Joyce Rupp, as an invitation to share what life is like for them right now. (The whole poem is printed in my last post.)
Creating a sacred space for about eight other people to listen to their heart and share what they find, is a deeply spiritual experience. I felt the idea of pilgrimage in the poem was “the hope in the midst of uncertainty and darkness” when we realize that many of our old ways are now dead ends. Advent seems to be a pilgrimage of faith and reflection. A pilgrimage –walking on purpose– begins with a call, requires preparation, then a commitment to walk, until the arrival at a destination. And then returning home again with new insight.
It is time for the pilgrim in me
to travel in the dark,
To learn to read the stars
That shine in my soul.
I will walk deeper
Into the dark of my night.
I will wait for the stars,
Trust their guidance,
And let their light be enough for me. by Joyce Rupp
The day the circle was to meet, I woke up at 5 am with new questions on my mind. “What is this virus trying to tell us as a species? Is this the voice of God speaking to me in this question? Am I so stuck in the physical world that I believe a vaccine will get my life back to normal? Isn’t it this normal life that is killing us?” The thesis of The Universal Christ is that we must get beyond dualistic beliefs such as physical reality being separate from spiritual reality. There is only one reality, the incarnational reality that the whole world is connected in one network of life.
I remembered how I had to readjust my thinking when Black Lives Matter raised the issues of racism. I’d had a surprisingly good record of relationships with all races of people. But finally, I came to admit that I am guilty of racism by association, being a white man. It’s called systemic racism. I have benefited from racist policies and practices in my country and my society. I have quietly benefited.
That was followed by a further thought: At a moment-in-time we were able to capture fire and put it in a glass bulb. We called it the electric light. A godsend, we thought. Yet that invention changed the way we looked at reality. We began to lose touch with the spiritual reality, coming to believe that we are now in control of how we participate in life. In this time, when science provides us with many life saving medicines and time saving technologies, we have come to accept a materialist worldview as the correct belief about what is important in the world. We can now choose how we participate in life and use physical stuff for our wealth and benefit. We left the ancient wisdom that valued the natural rhythm of light and darkness. We forgot that the energy of the light of love is the basis for our life choices. We entered into an age that emphasized the value of the individual. We forgot that our commitment to love is the basis of our life and community which keeps us deeply connected to one another.
And so instead of these new discoveries leading to the good life, we entered into an Age of Anxiety. With greater personal wealth we do not feel more freedom. We do not find more satisfaction. We are more worried and depressed, have higher suicide rates and depend on pills to keep us going. We live as if there were no limits for us in time and space. All this leading to a final thought, “Is there is such a thing as “systemic unfaithfulness”? Call it chronic selfishness.
So, I/we wait for a vaccine to save us instead of establishing new relationships and new values to guide our lives. But a vaccine will not save me; it will only give me more time to address my unfaithfulness (selfishness, greed, pursuit of happiness) and begin to establish a more satisfactory way of life. The vaccine will give each of us time to practice becoming a better person, to put together a better community/city/country. More time to practice listening to our hearts. More time to recognize our deafness to the voice of love calling to us.
I have come to realize that I can participate in a materialist world, but not accept its worldview as ultimate reality. This view is too narrow, too limiting and is killing us. Advent is calling me back to being a pilgrim without an external map –to turning inward to the stars in my soul to guide me — loving neighbour, self and God. Helping each other to build a human community of people who care for each other, who will sacrifice for each other and for the greater good. This may be what Micah was pointing to when he wrote: “What does the Lord require of me? To love kindness, to act justly and to walk humbly with my God.” Micah 6:8