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 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..

Third Monday in Advent

Balaam by Ben-Zion (1897-1987) “This Advent, forgive, forgive, and forgive. Draw others close to you. Draw yourself near to other people. In bridging gaps we draw nearer to God who this season draws ever closer to us.”—Caryll Houselander, woodcarver and mystic

“Balaam did not go as before to seek omens but turned toward the wilderness.”Numbers 24:2

The story in Numbers 22 of Balaam and his ass is a favorite for Sunday school. The antics of the donkey who can see the angel of God while Balaam remains blind lends itself to classic comedy. In fact, it is the donkey who is actually the prophet because God speaks through her to correct Balaam.

Balak, the Moab king, is surrounded by Israelites who are prepared to attack. Balak has decided to fight fire with fire. He calls for Balaam, a Yahwist priest, to curse the Yahwist army. Balak thinks he’s got Balaam in his pocket because Balak can’t imagine anyone refusing money. But Balaam’s curse on the Israelites cannot be bought. Instead, God stuffs Balaam’s mouth with poems blessing Israel, which he then spews over the gathered army.

In this instance, the Moab king recognizes defeat and withdraws. The battle is won with poetry and without a single death.

The Christ-figure in this story is the donkey. She obeys God. She does everything in her power to keep Balaam on the path of righteousness. She submits to unjustified violence when Balaam beats her. And she speaks the words of God honestly. Filipino priest and activist Karl Gaspar would say this story exemplifies the “weapons of the weak.” The slave animal acts with honor and the war is won with weapons of beauty.

Pay attention today to the most overlooked living creature or person in your path. What example might they teach?

Breathe in. Breathe out. Ad…..vent.

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

Second Wednesday in Advent

"The Holy Thing" by Bruce Manwaring
“The Holy Thing” by Bruce Manwaring

“Everyone should open their heart very wide to joy, should welcome it and let it be buried very deeply in them; and they should wait the flowering with patience. Of course, the first ecstasy will pass, but because in real joy Christ grows in us, the time will come when joy will put forth shoots and the richness and sweetness of the person who rejoiced will be Christ’s flowering.”Caryll Houselander, woodcarver and mystic

In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, ‘Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.’”Luke 1:26-28

The eight-day Jewish “Festival of Lights” called Hanukkah starts next week. It commemorates the victory of the Maccabees in reclaiming the temple in Jerusalem’s from the Greek-Syrian ruler Antiochus IV. As the people prepared to dedicate the temple, they realized they only had enough purified oil to kindle the menorah for a single day. Miraculously, the light continued to burn for eight days. Each evening of Hanukkah one more menorah candle is lit with a special blessing. The candles are not to be “used” for light, but only for enjoyment, savoring their beauty.

“We will prevail through the dark night,” sings Rabbi Shefa Gold in her Hanukkah song from Zechariah, “but not by might, and not by power, but by Your Spirit. These are the words of God.”

Jewish midrash tells an interesting story on how the first menorah was made. Apparently, Moses had a difficulty remembering God’s instructions on menorah making. Every time Moses left the mountain he would forget the pattern, so God engraved the design into the flesh of Moses palm. Torah scholar Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg says that after this experience Moses’ hands took on new power. Later, when Moses instructs Joshua to lead the Israelite force against Amalek, Moses does not direct with his staff but only his open hands. “In this gesture, according to one midrash,” writes Zornberg, “ Moses models prayer to his people fighting below. In a surrealistic description, their involvement in battle is refigured as a miming of Moses’ prayerful gestures: ‘they saw Moses kneeling down, and they knelt down, falling upon his face and they fell upon their faces, spreading their hands to heaven.’” Whenever the people modeled Moses, they prevailed.

What a powerful image of nonviolent resistance! In the midst of a battle, all the Israelites knelt down to pray as Moses instructed them. “As long as the Israelites gazed upwards and submitted their hearts to God in heaven, they would prevail,” says the Mishna Rosh Hashana, “and if not, they would fail.”

What healing of the masculine to you need in your 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..

#StayWoke White Folk

Anne Braden and Rosa Parks, 1950s
Anne Braden and Rosa Parks, 1950s

Our friends over at #StayWokeAdvent are providing explosive Christian analysis on the Black Lives Matter uprisings in the context of Advent.

In that spirit, I invite you–especially if you are a “white” American Christian–to commit to two study sessions this Advent.

1. Read the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), then watch this video of a woman in Indianapolis (5 minutes) addressing a community panel in October 2014. Read the Magnificat again. Compare and contrast the two addresses. What story would you tell if you were in her place?

2. Listen to Lauryn Hill’s “Black Rage” and read “Most White People in America Are Completely Oblivious,” by Tim Wise (published November 25, 2014 on Alternet). This is a long article and parts of it are hard to read and will likely make you very uncomfortable. That’s okay. Just sit with it. Then read Malachi 3 in The Message version. When did you first realize you were white?

Remember, “whiteness” is a social construct resulting from the Fall. It’s part of what John Kinney refers to as “snakeology” –lies our culture tells us. Each one of you, however, is God’s beloved. Nothing takes that away. You are strong enough and courageous enough to look at hard truths. You are not “white.” You are Christian. Shedding our “whiteness” means looking at hard truths of  unconscious bias and unearned privilege. That’s okay. That’s what we are here on earth for — to look at hard things in ourselves and allow God to make them new in us. Jesus is always with us, always making all things new. God is with us in this. Emanuel. God has our backs. Be not afraid.–Rose Marie Berger

 

The “O” Antiphons

An ancient and beautiful practice of the Christian church in preparation for Christmas is the singing of the “O” antiphons. Below, Benedictine Joan Chitister invites us to join in the singing:

In anticipation of Christmas, the monastic community begins to review its vision of Jesus by chanting ancient prayers known now as “The O Antiphons.” Each of these chants recalls a different aspect of the Christ-life to which we are called.

December 17
“O Wisdom” the community prays today in its anticipation of new grace in life. It’s important to realize that wisdom and education are not the same thing. Education provides the experiences we need in order to manage our lives. Wisdom, on the other hand, is what we learn as a result of the experiences we have.

December 18
“O Adonai,” the community sings today. “O God of All,” we chant. When we build a vision of life it is necessary to realize that Jesus must be the center of it–not our institutions, good as they may be, not our plans or personal talents, necessary as they are.

December 19
“O Root of Jesse,” the community remembers today. It takes generations to build the Christ-vision in the world, just as it took generations after Jesse to prepare for the coming of the Christ. It is our task to root ideas now that will bring the next generation to wholeness.

December 20
“O Key of David,” we say at Vespers today. We’re all looking for the keys to life– the key to success, the key to happiness, the key to serenity. And we’re always looking for it somewhere else. The problem is that we already have it and don’t recognize it. What key in your present life are you avoiding, resisting, overlooking, rejecting?

December 21
“O Radiant Dawn,” we chant today. We look for light everywhere. But it was night when Benedict saw the vision of his life. That’s what usually happens to us, too. Just when we think that light will never come into our lives again, we begin to see a whole new world around us.

December 22
“O God of All the Earth,” we pray today. We get a chance today to realize that we are not the beginning and the end of the universe. We are part of a vision of humankind, seen in Jesus, but yet to be achieved in us–a vision of global sharing, universal peace and individual security. If we all want it so much, what is delaying its coming? I’m serious. What is it?

December 23
“O Emmanuel,” we sing tonight, not so much in hope as in recognition. After all, Jesus—Emmanuel—has already come. It is not a matter now of Christ’s being where we are; it is a matter of our being in the consciousness of where Christ is in life. And where He is not as well. Where is Christ for you this Christmas? And is there a place in your life that you know down deep is not in the spirit of Christ at all?

Join the Benedictine Sisters of Erie HERE in praying the O Antiphons during the seven days before Christmas. The melodies were composed by the late Erie Benedictine Sister Mary David Callahan.

From The Radical Christian Life: A Year with Saint Benedict by Joan Chittister (Liturgical Press).

Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

"Our Lady of Louisiana" by Rick Delanty
“Our Lady of Louisiana” by Rick Delanty

“Christ has lived each one of our lives. He has faced all our fears, suffered all our griefs, overcome all our temptations, labored in all our labors, loved in all our loves, and died in all our deaths. Through Jesus, God knows our hidden selves, and still God delights to be one with us.”—Caryll Houselander, woodcarver and mystic

“The afflicted and the needy seek water in vain, their tongues are parched with thirst. I, the LORD, will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them. I will open up rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the broad valleys; I will turn the desert into a marshland, and the dry ground into springs of water.”Isaiah 41: 17-18

It was a cool, dry day with a breeze when I walked through the market that surrounds the Cathedral of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico City. Everything related to Guadalupana was for sale. T-shirts, bumper stickers, ash trays, rosaries, plastic roses, 3-D posters with eyes that followed you as you passed by. I passed under an allee of riotous red, pink, and orange bougainvillea into the Cathedral plaza and finally into the church itself. Downstairs is the painting of the Virgin that appeared to Cuatitloatzin (Juan Diego), a Nahuat Indian in 1531.

To view the painting you must stand on a moving walkway that takes you past the painting. That day several viejitas were riding the walkway on their knees, then returning to the front and riding it again. My friend told me that I had to prepare my heart before passing before the painting. She translated the message engraved on the marble wall. Among other things, it said that one must not approach the Virgin of Guadalupe with a list of demands. On the contrary, one must approach her with an open heart and a clear mind so that one can hear and fully receive the message of the Holy Spirit.

“That light, does it rise from the earth or fall from the sky?” writes Eduardo Galeano in his reflections on Cuatitloatzin and the Virgin of Guadalupe. “Is it a lightning bug or a bright star. It doesn’t want to leave the slopes of Tepeyac and in the dead of night persists, shining on the stones and entangling itself in the branches. Hallucinating, inspired, the naked Indian Juan Diego sees it: The light of lights opens up for him, breaks into golden and ruby pieces, and in its glowing heart appears that most luminous of Mexican women, she who says to him in Nahuatl language: ‘I am the mother of God.’”

What healing of the feminine do you need in your life?

Breathe in. Breathe out. Ad…vent.

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

Ched Myers: What Prophetic Tradition Will You Apprentice To?

1024px-River_baptism_in_New_Bern
“Wade in the Water.” Postcard of a river baptism in New Bern, N.C., around 1900.

“Mark’s prologue portrays the world of Roman-occupied Palestine in political, social, economic and religious crisis. Historically we know that in this context, tensions stemming from imperial forces of domination and “globalization” gave rise to prophets who called their people to radical change. John took his cue from the wilderness tradition, and Jesus from John. If we are to be followers of that Jesus, we must also make choices in the conflicted terrain of our world about what prophetic traditions we apprentice to and what social movements of liberation we help build as individuals and as church. However controversial or consequential such choices may be, such is what it means to be a disciple of the Great Disciple of God’s Kingdom.”–Ched Myers

Minnie Bruce Pratt: When I Say ‘Steal,’ Who Do You Think Of?

Photo by Leslie Feinberg

I became familiar with the poet Minnie Bruce Pratt when I was in high school and read “Motionless On The Dark Side Of The Light,” in the No More Masks: An Anthology of 20th Century American Women Poets.

Pratt was born in Selma, Alabama, in 1946. She graduated from Bibb County High School when it was under segregation, and entered the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, a year after George Wallace “stood in the schoolhouse door” in an attempt to stop desegregation.

She says that she received her real education “into the great liberation struggles of the 20th century through grass-roots organizing with women in the army-base town of Fayetteville, North Carolina, and through teaching at historically Black universities.” Since coming into women’s liberation, and coming out as a lesbian in 1975 in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Pratt has been active in organizing that intersects women’s and gender issues, LGBT issues, anti-racism work, and critiques of empire. Currently, she is a professor of Women’s & Gender Studies and Writing & Rhetoric at Syracuse University, where she also serves as faculty for a developing Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/ Transgender Studies Program.

I came across a lecture she gave in 2004 and wanted to share an excerpt here. The first time I read it, I was struck by the oddness of it pushing up against the gospel readings from Matthew 6 and Luke 12. It has the whiff of Advent about it.

“Every week Miz Nell Weaver had us memorize a Bible verse, one for each letter of the alphabet. This was in the fourth grade, Centreville, Alabama, 1956. One by one, on Fridays, our name would be called and we would go into the only privacy there was, the cloakroom at the back of the classroom, and there in the narrow space jumbled with coats and book bags, we would stand in front of her and open our mouths and recite. “I” was In the beginning, of course. And “L” was Lay not up treasure on earth where moth and rust doth corrupt and where thieves break through and steal. Lay up treasure in heaven, where moth and rust doth not corrupt and thieves do not break through and steal. (Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.)

Who did I think was stealing? What was the endangered treasure, that which would rot away and be lost? Why was I being taught that any security I might ever have would be after I was dead?

Continue reading “Minnie Bruce Pratt: When I Say ‘Steal,’ Who Do You Think Of?”