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Order you Advent 2017 chapbook from RadicalDiscipleship.org to get deep and timely Christian reflections from the grassroots and beyond. Listening in the Dark: Daily Advent Reflections for Radical Discipleship Communities is limited-edition and self-published in Detroit, with original art, and voices that include Rose Berger, Lydia Wylie-Kellermann, Timothy Jones, Ched Myers, Tim Nafziger, Wesley Morris, Jeanie Wylie-Kellermann, and more. Churches, communities, and book groups are making this their companion for the season. You can order them at www.radicaldiscipleship.net/store.

Fourth Tuesday in Advent

The Story Teller by Joel Klepac www.joelklepac.com
“The Story Teller: I Could Not Save Them” by Joel Klepac www.joelklepac.com

“Zechariah asked for a tablet and wrote, ‘John is his name,’ and all were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God.”—Luke 1: 63-64

Zechariah’s muteness may not have been a punishment doubting the angel Gabriel’s rather outlandish promise that Elizabeth was pregnant. Rather, Zechariah’s muteness could have been a psychosomatic response to trauma. Sometimes it’s called “hysterical muteness.”

In the 1980s in Los Angeles, there was an epidemic of blindness among Cambodian women in their 40s. “Each of these recent immigrants had been a victim of the Khmer Rouge revolution and the violent regime that followed. The women struck with blindness,” scientists reported, “had all lived amidst the horrors of genocide. More specifically, each woman had witnessed the murder of a family member. Four years later, 200 such refugees went blind.”

“The blind are often unable to visualize images in their Mind’s Eye. Hence, they can no longer be plagued by images from traumatic memories,” said a neuroopthalmologist.

Zechariah had dedicated his entire life to God and to the temple. There is no evidence that he had ever had a mystical experience of the presence of God. What a shock it must have been! First, an angel appears to him. Second, the angel in effect tells him that the Messiah is coming. Third, that Zechariah will be the father of the “forerunner,” the reappearance of Elijah. (The fact that Elizabeth is well beyond childbearing years hardly seems to matter.) The fourth and final trauma is that Zechariah is confronted with his own words of doubt after a lifetime of outspoken faithfulness.

He fell silent.

“So now here we stand,” writes theologian Karl Barth, “simultaneously deaf and mute like Zechariah…. In spite of his unbelief, he was still a herald of Advent, one who waited for God.”

“O King of the Gentiles, yea, and desire thereof! O Cornerstone, that makest of two one, come to save us mortals, whom Thou hast made out of the dust of the earth!”

Breathe in. Breathe out. Ad…..vent.

Third Sunday in Advent

“Christ used the flesh and blood of Mary for his life on earth, the Word of love was uttered in her heartbeat. Christ used his own body to utter his love on earth…In this the Christian life is a sacramental life. This Advent God invites you to touch, and taste, and smell. Listen to your body this Advent. Stretch your senses and taste and see that the Lord is good.”Caryll Houselander, woodcarver and mystic

“When John heard in prison of the works of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to him with this question, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?’ Jesus said to them in reply, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.’”Matthew 11:2-6

This is Guadete Sunday. We light the third Advent candle as a sign of joy. It is to remind us that when we dream like God dreams—wild visions flowing over with grace, and justice, and mercy—then our road will be lit by this third candle.

Sometimes it is hard for us to feel the scriptures in our bones until we see them acted out. In Venezuela I met a nun who for twelve years had worked in a poor neighborhood located on a steep hillside high over Caracas. Her name was Sr. Begoña. She had been a religious Sister of the Sacred Heart for many years in Spain before moving to Venezuela.

Sr. Begoña talked about the change that she had seen in the self-image of the poor since the government began prioritizing social programs for “the least of these.” Initially, she was very skeptical of the Venezuelan president. He had a military background and she’d grown up in Spain under General Franco. She had no use totalitarian leadership. She was also skeptical of how successful government programs could be in helping the poor. Would they create dependence? What happens when a new administration comes into office? “But,” said Sr. Begoña, “I have lived in this neighborhood for a long time and the poor were for the government programs and for the president. I decided that I would take my chances with the poor, with the people. They were first to understand the new national project.” She said that if the government programs were a mistake she would still rather err with the people than against them.

Not long after making this decision, the neighborhood people invited her to a big march in support of the national agenda to give preferential option to the poor. The day arrived and hundreds from her neighborhood walked the two hours down the hillside into the Caracas city center. Along the way they were joined by thousands of other very poor people from the slums that ring Caracas. There was singing and chanting and laughing—a palpable energy of joy, hope, and possibility. “I always wondered what it meant in the Gospel that the blind saw, the deaf heard and the lame walked,” said Sr. Begoña, “but on that day I was walking with poor people who were blind and deaf and lame. Suddenly, I began to understand—because they were seeing and hearing and walking.”

Where do you see the gospel brought to life?

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.

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Second Friday in Advent

Fire Dance by Elena Kotliarker

“Till like a fire there appeared the prophet Elijah whose words were as a flaming furnace. Their staff of bread he shattered, in his zeal he reduced them to straits; by God’s word he shut up the heavens and three times brought down fire.”—Sirach 48: 1-3

The book of Sirach (also called Ecclesiasticus) is a collection of folk wisdom interspersed with songs of admiration for great figures in the Hebrew tradition. The scientific era has taught us to devalue folk wisdom, but the bible demonstrates that the common wisdom of poor people should be valued alongside the learned wisdom of the priests and prophets. The book of Sirach is a storehouse of shared stories. Stories are the bones of a culture. Without stories, things fall apart. Life no longer makes sense.

Sirach 48 is a praise poem honoring the prophet Elijah who used what might be called natural magic or earth-based science to defeat the priests of Baal. Elijah’s dedication to Yahweh opened him to receive Yahweh’s wisdom on how to win this particular battle. To win the hearts and minds of the people who worshiped a rain god it was necessary to defeat the rain god at his own game. So Yahweh demonstrated superiority by controlling water. When the priests of Baal lit a fire to sacrifice a bull, Elijah called down rain to put it out. And when the priests of Baal called for a downpour of rain, Elijah “shut up the heavens” causing a drought in the land.

The setting of these power struggles and the weapons used are foreign to us—but the basic dynamics are not. Some people interpret these Old Testament battles as the One True Religion against the Other. Jesus, however, drew the line differently. There are those who use power and institutions to oppress the poor and those who do not.

In Matthew’s account of the transfiguration, Jesus’ students ask him, “Why do the scribes say Elijah has to come first?” In typical Jesus fashion, he ignores the narrow-mindedness of their question and goes to the heart of it. It is not important what the scribes have said in the past. Elijah has already returned and the Messiah is now among them. This is what they must realize. This is what they must open their hearts and minds to understand.

What power struggles are present in your own life? What wisdom do you need to face them?

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.

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 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..

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..

First Monday in Advent

“Advent is a season of silence and rest with God. Take time to focus and examine your conscience. What is the shape of your emptiness? How are you still connected to God’s abiding beauty? This Advent, how will you fulfill the work of giving Christ life?”Caryll Houselander, woodcarver and mystic

“When Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to him and saying, ‘Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress.'” Matthew 8: 5-6

Advent is a time of ambiguity. It invites us to embrace conflicting images. Not to harmonize them into one, but to simply let our soul be tempered and strengthened by the fire this conflict creates.

In the story of the centurion asking Jesus to heal his servant, we have the warrior and the weak. Our imagination expects several things.

First, since Jesus has just healed a leper, one of the least of these, maybe he’s tired and doesn’t need to heal again.

Second, Jesus isn’t a collaborator with the Romans. Why would he even speak with a centurion—storm trooper of the state?

Third, we expect the mighty centurion to ask for something for himself or one of his family—not to act with compassion for a servant.

Finally, we don’t expect the Roman commander to become an occasion for Jesus to be amazed, saying, “Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith.”

Today, pay attention to your response to ambiguity.

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

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