Second Monday in Advent

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing.—Isaiah 35:1-2

Isaiah is weaving a vision that indicts the military might of the kings of Tyre, Babylon, Egypt, Edom. In earlier chapters, Isaiah gives a sharp-tongued eulogy on the death of that clear-cutting king Nebuchadnezzar: “The pines themselves and the cedars of Lebanon exult over you. Since you have been laid low, they say, no man comes to fell us” (14:8).

What are these songs that the earth sings? What is the role of singing amongst those who are oppressed? In slavery and servitude the world over singing is a sign of lament and resistance. So if earth is singing for joy then these must be “resistance songs.”

As theologian Ched Myers says, “Empire has always been at war with nature.” “Resource wars” are nothing new. But when empires are brought low, as Isaiah predicts will occur when God’s word is fulfilled, then the very earth will sing its victory song over the oppressor.

Do you live an honorable life with regards to the earth? Will your Christmas gifts celebrate creation?

Breathe in. Breathe out. Ad…..vent.

With gratitude to Pax Christi USA where some of these reflections first appeared in print.

Advent Poem: The Rim by Rose Marie Berger

silver-rim

The Rim
The meaning is in the waiting. —R.S. Thomas

Like a silver goblet, Advent
slips round again      passing through heat

and the End of Days      a darkness
too searing for the lip. Smiths

engrave the old year beneath
the rim.      Tradition keeps memory

gradual. The pedestal base round
as the new year      full of what lies

ahead. Is it hope? Or simply
the exodus of this generation
into the flames of the one coming.

–Rose Marie Berger (for Lydia Wylie Kellermann, 2016)

Thank you to Radical Discipleship where this poem first appeared.

Second Sunday in Advent

“The law of growth is rest. We must be content in winter to wait patiently through the bleak season in which we experience nothing of the sweetness of the Divine Presence, believing that these seasons when we feel most empty are most filled with a still small Christ-life growing within us.”Caryll Houselander, woodcarver and mystic

“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.”Romans 15:4

Youngest Child: What does the second candle mean?

Oldest Person: We light the first Advent candle to remind us of the promise of the prophets that a Messiah would come, bringing peace with justice and love to the world. We light the second candle to remind us, and God, that we are still waiting for the Messiah, patiently and actively like a farmer waiting for the sprouting seed.

“There is great virtue in practicing patience in small things,” writes the 20th century English mystic Caryll Houselander, “until the habit of Advent returns to us.” The disciplines of Advent are ones that teach us to do small things greatly, to do few things but do them well, to love in particular, rather than in general. This habit of small “successes” generates creativity, a sense of well being, a generosity of spirit rooted in satisfaction. It generates hope.

The Greek word for hope is elpis. In the Greek pantheon of spirits Elpis was the female personification of hope. When Pandora opened the jar given to her by Zeus, the spirits of disorder flew free into the world. Elpis remained in the jar, thus preventing humans from suicidal despair. Hope is depicted as a young woman carrying lilies in her arms.

Christians engaged in social transformation often get discouraged. We are acutely aware of the evils of the world. Sometimes we despair. Sometimes we allow our anger at injustice to be the source of energy in our lives. Sometimes we actually create despair and depression in our lives when we only fight losing battles. It is mandatory that we yoke ourselves to disciplines that generate hope.

Walking on the streets of a Las Vegas suburb, I met an 8-year-old boy out riding his bike. The bike was a clunker and the boy was wearing hand-me-downs. I asked him, “How’s it going?” “Great!” he replied. “I’m in my ninth week of having fun!” I laughed and laughed. Then I took out my date book to mark out my own nine weeks of fun.

Having fun is not the same as having hope, but they are related. Dipping in the deep refreshing pool of joy and contentment is one reminder that the world and everything in it—good and bad—belongs to God. It is our work to live in “day-tight compartments”—receiving our daily bread, doing good, offering hospitality, choosing compassion and forgiveness, serving the “least of these,” singing, praying, and, when night comes, giving our bodies and souls over to sleep.

What habits do you have that generate hope?

Ad……vent. A d v e n t (slowly breathe in on the “Ad” part and out on the “vent” part)…There! You prayed today. Keep it up!

With gratitude to Pax Christi USA where some of these reflections first appeared in print..

First Saturday in Advent

“The story of Joseph’s bewilderment when he realized that his future wife was going to have a baby is well known, and it is well known too that Mary did not explain. Sometimes there is little to be gained by trying to explain, especially when misunderstandings arise from Christ conceived in us. At that time, in that Advent moment, God’s voice is silent within us; it is simply the sound of our heartbeat. Love is more effective than words.”Caryll Houselander, woodcarver and mystic

“On that day the deaf shall hear the words of a scroll, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see.”—Isaiah 29:18

In Jose Saramago’s allegorical novel Blindness he uses a quotation from the Book of Exhortations as the epigram: “If you can see, look. If you can look, observe.”

The metaphor of “giving sight to the blind” is meant to be used as just that…a metaphor. Isaiah is not talking about physical blindness or deafness. Often when one physical sense is lost then acuity is heightened in other senses. There are however other kinds of blindness and deafness that both Isaiah and Jesus address. For one, the blindness of ignorance, specifically ignorance of Torah (“the scroll”). It is important to study scripture. You don’t have to be a “master” or academic, but you need a hunger for the text. There are many things that dull our hunger, our desire, for the Word. There are many things that we allow to prevent us from exploring the question “Who am I really?

Near the end of Saramago’s novel, when the blind people are getting their vision back, a character says, “I don’t think we did go blind, I think we are blind. Blind but seeing. Blind people who can see, but do not see.”

In Advent we brave the darkness. In Advent we ask God to give us “second sight” or true sight. In Advent we dare to open our ears to the deep song of prayer that under girds all creation.

Take time today to gaze at something beautiful.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Ad…..vent.

With gratitude to Pax Christi USA where some of these reflections first appeared in print..

First Friday in Advent – A Meditation

Grace Foretold by Makoto Fujimura
Grace Foretold by Makoto Fujimura

An Advent Meditation
by Rose Marie Berger

This is to all who serve on the human front, wearing any mask that will get you home. A word: While we are all dying to get out, there is one who died to get in. Disguised as one of us, this one came creeping over enemy lines, across the DMZ, relying on our infatuation with innocence just long enough to secure the passage. An instant later the yapping jaws snapped shut in a slaughter of all innocents—cutting the tongues off all to silence the one.

This is to you who wake up daily on the front lines of life, in the dystopia of the modern world where each one ticks like a clock or bomb; where young ones cut themselves on the fractured edge of a post-modern morning; where Gens X, Y, and Z trade their parents’ headlong linear flight into oblivion for the virtual rush of binary bungee jumping. Just how deep does this rabbit hole go?

And to you broken ones who wander the front lines picking rags and plastic bags; who hoard IRAs and modest portfolios and chances at the Daily Double. And it’s to you in the second wave up all night stringing together code to bind up the mainframe, twisting it into a safety net to keep us from breaking our necks in the fall. (Or is it a trip wire and we’ll all go together when we go?)

            Homo sapiens have evolved. Now we are Homo sapiens sapiens. We are two-headed like Eng and Chang the Siamese Twins—but our heads are from different countries with no common tongue. Our symbols flash like broken traffic lights, or fall through our teeth like abandoned cars, condoms, a passed-up penny, only to the level of the collarbone. They lodge there, useless, against the lump in our separate throats.

Busted. It’s all busted. “The repairman,” repeats the recorded message, “is out of cell phone range.”

WE WEREN’T CONSCRIPTS to civilization. We volunteered. Certain that God was on our side, we wielded sword and scythe for the greater good, for the less fortunate. We fought the good fight. We picked up the hitchhiker, sheltered the homeless, and visited the prisoner. We tried to love neighbor, love God, stay within the speed limit, and pay our parking tickets. And yet the Tin Man—who holds high his award for good deeds, a ticking clock in the shape of a heart—is still a golem; only now something keeps him up at night.

Even you nihilist Nephilim riding shotgun on the “civilizing” project with your Glock .40s, AK-47s, or trigger-rigged lap tops; you who let your eyes be plucked out so as not to see a human soul, how’s that lifestyle working out? You still spew black spit, rotting from the inside out? Remember when mornings came like a stay from the governor? Now they are another practice mark on the tender flesh of the wrist—foreshadowing death by a thousand cuts. This letter is addressed even to you.

And to you little ones, anawim, refugees from our shifting architectures of moral adjustment; you with a leg or arm or child trapped under the collapsed facade of Christendom; you who are relegated to roll-your-own welfare lines who wake every morning in this bloody horror. (Can’t someone make that child stop screaming?)

“THE ADVENT OF CHRIST in history is not essentially bound up with the development and progress of Christian ‘civilization,’” writes Thomas Merton.

A heartbeat. A breath.

In the dark someone is brooding over us. Someone from home has smuggled a word across enemy lines, over the burning barricades, under the iron grate. It says only this: You are not alone.

That light in the east is a signal flare, flashing “Follow me. Follow me. Follow me.” On the smoke-laden horizon there is a tiny string of lights, barely perceptible, bobbing. Tapers perhaps, hand-held, and a faint erratic melody. Flesh of my flesh.

 Rose Marie Berger, an associate editor at Sojourners, is a Catholic peace activist and poet. This first appeared in the November-December 2001 issue of Sojourners.

First Thursday in Advent

 "Fishers of Men" by Rex DeLoney, Little Rock, Arkansas
“Fishers of Men” by Rex DeLoney, Little Rock, Arkansas

“This Advent, our Advent, is a time of creation. God’s spirit abides in us—brooding over our waters—shaping and forming us, being formed and shaped by us. God alone knows what we shall become. God has visited us with grace and favor. Are we ready to become Light?”Caryll Houselander, woodcarver and mystic

“As Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers … And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ Immediately, they left their nets and followed him”.—Matthew 4: 18-20

There is a church near my house called “Fisherman of Men Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith, Inc.” The insistently masculine language always makes me laugh. It’s as if the church-namers knew that the narrow image of a patriarchal God was on its way out and so over- compensate. Or to paraphrase Shakespeare, “Me thinks they doth protest too much.”

Paradoxically, I find this invitation from Jesus to Peter and Andrew, then James and John, to be distinctly subversive of patriarchy. Jesus woos them like a lover. He seduces them into leaving their fathers’ houses, like young women leaving home to join the home of their husband’s family.

These men respond to Jesus as if they are in love. There is no cognitive decision making. They fall in love. They drop their nets—representing their known world. They follow, like a lover after her beloved. They have eyes only for him.

When were you last in love?

Breathe in. Breathe out. It’s Ad……vent.

With gratitude to Pax Christi USA where some of these reflections first appeared in print..

Advent Action: Download a “Welcome Your Neighbors” sign

welcomesignphoto
These signs (above) have been popping up around the country. My friend Kimberly Burge (buy her book The Born Frees) spotted them in Mt. Pleasant in D.C. My friend Duane Shank has spotted them in Goshen, Indiana.

It turns out they were created by folks at Immanuel Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, Va.–and they are spreading like wildfire!

According to The Mennonite:

Immanuel Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, Virginia, decided to put up a sign proclaiming our shared value of welcoming foreigners. The wording for the sign came from our pastor Matthew Bucher and was hand painted by another member of the congregation, Melissa Howard.

It reads, “No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor” in three languages: English, Spanish and Arabic. IMC’s neighbors speak many languages, but primarily one of these three. Matthew said, “I hope that the sign is a marker to the community. And, I hope that folks leaving IMC after a service are reminded of who we are to be. “

The first week of Advent focuses on The Prophet’s Candle, symbolizing Hope. Print your own poster for your front yard. Get a group of friends or your church together and get a local printer to make some for all of you.

Just download the PDF, and it is ready to print a 24 inch x 18 inch sign. Please keep the text as it is when you use this sign. Please share where you posted the sign at Welcome Your Neighbors on Facebook.

Download PDF of sign in Spanish, English, and Arabic here.

Download PDF of sign in French, English, and Arabic here.

Let’s get them out nationwide by Christmas!

First Wednesday in Advent

Moses on the Mountain of God (1991) by Albert Herbert.

“Our alternative to dehumanizing, scientific, economic objectivity is not sentimentality or shapeless love. It is objective love—a dispassionate passion. It is the passion of God for all people—regardless of habit or custom, race or disposition, gender or economic status. It is a daring and brave position, but it is one that sides with God who stretches our hearts and minds this Advent to see the stranger, the dispossessed, and the outcast, and invites us to love. O God, enlarge and warm the caverns of our hearts this Advent.”Caryll Houselander, woodcarver and mystic

“On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine … And the Lord will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations.”—Isaiah 25: 6-7

The God who creates and destroys is fundamentally ambiguous to our human mind. It is an assault on our attempt to create moral order and coherency in the world. It is an assault on our need to control.

The mountain of God is sometimes compared to a nursing breast. The people are entranced by it. It is their whole world. It provides essential nourishment. They can’t live without it. They are completely vulnerable and dependent on this mountain. It is this dependency that creates fear. What if the life-giver becomes the life-taker? This fear may then generate separation and, eventually, individuality.

It is this process, which is repeated many times through one’s life, which makes us distinct and unique.

How can you learn to embrace creation and destruction, life and death, certainty and doubt?

Breathe in. Breathe out. It’s Ad……vent.

With gratitude to Pax Christi USA where some of these reflections first appeared in print..

Bill Wylie Kellermann: When Christmas Carols Were Banned

Bill Wylie-Kellermann
Bill Wylie-Kellermann
My brother Bill Kellermann, Methodist pastor in Detroit, offers a stiff drink of a sermon for the first Sunday of Advent.

“Thirty years ago during anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, an order of Pretoria regime, forbid the singing of carols in the Black townships because they stirred up such energy and hope. A newspaper report quoted a South African police agent: “Carols are too emotional to be sung in a time of unrest…Candles have become revolutionary symbols.” (See Walter Bruggemann, Israel’s Praise)

I think the same is rightly true of the Advent Wreath – it tells a circle of resistance, a No in the form of a Yes.
Yes is to work of God in Hope, Peace, Joy (the pink candle), and Love
Yes to Hope says NO to the despair that paralyzes and disempowers us all.
Yes to Peace says NO to all the violence that is growing and raging unleashed in the present darkness. Isaiah says for the nations and peoples to learn the ways of Lord, they must unlearn war, and we might say its kin – white supremacy, misogyny, islamaphobia, homophobia. If we want to learn the ways of peace, can’t study war no more.

Yes to Joy says NO to what? Maybe it too resists the gloom of despair, but I’m inclined to set it against fake joy, the ersatz happiness attached to all things marketable.

Lastly the “Wage Love” candle is a great Yes which says NO both to fear and to hate. Personally and communally, this is a lovely (and deadly serious) spiritual agenda for the season; in it we practice for the whole of life.”–Bill Wylie Kellermann

Read Bill’s entire sermon.

First Tuesday in Advent: Remembering Dorothy Day

Dorothy Day, 1929
Dorothy Day, 1929

November 29 marks the anniversary of Dorothy Day’s death. I owe much of my formation as a Catholic, as an activist, and as a writer to Dorothy Day and the Worker movement. Currently, I’m making my way through the recently released The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day, edited by Robert Ellsberg. Dorothy’s personal papers were embargoed for 25 years after her death. Ellsberg has done a phenomenal job in sifting, collecting, tracing, and editing. (I’ve written a few times about D. Day and the Catholic Worker movement for Sojourners.)

Below is a poem by my friend Ted Deppe, recalling Dorothy:

House of Hospitality
Tivoli, NY, 1976

Down the hall, someone’s playing Schumann and cursing,
and Dorothy says, ‘That’s why we call this a house of
hostility. At least we don’t turn away those in need,
but all our farms are failures.’ She quotes Dostoyevsky
to sum up fifty years of the Worker: ‘Love in dreams
seems easy, but love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing.’

Outside, the ice on the Hudson keeps breaking with loud booms,
and Dorothy recalls the San Francisco quake
when she was eight. Which prompts an elderly man, silent so far,
to clear his throat and say, ‘I was there—I heard Caruso
sing from the window of the Palace Hotel. We were running
down Market Street when Mother stopped, pointed up,

and there he was, testing his voice they say—he was afraid
he might have lost it during the disaster—singing from La Boheme,
that magnificent tenor of his floating above the sound of collapsing
buildings.’ ‘And you heard him sing?’ asks Dorothy, ‘you heard
Caruso?’ and the man—a very articulate schizophrenic—says,
‘I saw a city destroyed and heard Caruso sing on the same morning.’

‘What a life!’ Dorothy says. ‘See, I was in Oakland,
where it wasn’t so bad. I only read about Caruso. And his valet—
did you see him? A character out of Ignazio Silone!
I mean, I love opera, I love Caruso, but this valet, when the quake hit,
reportedly came into the maestro’s hotel room
and told him, “Signor, it is nothing—nothing—but I think

we should go outside.” Then, once he’d waited in the shaking
building for Caruso to sing, a cappella, the complete aria,
once he’d finally escorted him safely to the open square,
he climbed six floors to that Room with a View
to pack the great man’s trunks, and carefully—apparently
calmly—carried them down, one by one.’

This poem appeared originally in The Shop and will appear in Orpheus on the Red Line (Tupelo Press, 2009)..