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..

First Sunday of Advent

“There is great virtue in practicing patience in small things until the habit of Advent returns to us.” Caryll Houselander, woodcarver and mystic

“Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers.”—Romans 13:11

Gathered around the Advent wreath, the youngest child asks: Why do we light this candle? The elder answers: 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.

Advent is about knowing what time it is. Though we try to stay spiritually awake, we are human. We fall asleep. We are lulled into the addictive habits and patterns of the world. We begin to act and think and live like unbelievers—like those whose vision is not shaped by God.

There are basic question that every human will eventually ask. Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going? These are the essential questions of the human spirit. They are the questions that launch the quest into the nature of our mystery. Advent is a time specifically set aside in the liturgical year to accompany those questions.

It will require us to walk in dark places, sometimes without even a flicker of light. We will listen to prophets railing about the end of time—exploding our known and familiar world, our moral and cognitive self-understanding—until we are blown back to our essential elements. Advent will reduce us to atoms, bits of stardust. “We are only syllables of the Perfect Word,” says Caryll Houselander. We will be uncreated. We will be made feminine, until our nothingness becomes a nest.

On the first Sunday of Advent we must get ready to get ready. The alarm clock is about to go off. We are about to be roughly roused. We will be shaken to the very depths, so that we may wake up to the truth of ourselves. For this, we must prepare. God invites us on a journey. We are only lacking one piece of information. We have no idea where we are going.

What do you need to do to prepare?

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..

December 2, 1980: Maura, Ita, Dorothy, and Jean

“When a woman is carrying a child she develops a certain instinct of self-defense. It is not selfishness; it is not egoism. It is an absorption into the life within, a folding of self like a little tent around the child’s frailty, a God-like instinct to cherish and, some day, to bring forth life. A closing upon it like the petals of a flower closing upon the dew that shines in the heart. This is precisely the attitude we must have to Christ, the wellspring of Life within us, in the Advent of our contemplation.”Caryll Houselander, woodcarver and mystic

“Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of Abba in heaven.”Matthew 7:21

On December 2, 1980, Maura Clarke, Ita Ford, Dorothy Kazel, and Jean Donovan—Catholic missionaries from the United States—were murdered by National Guardsmen in El Salvador. Dorothy and Jean were driving to the airport outside San Salvador to pick up Maura and Ita.

On the way back from the airport, they were pulled over at a roadblock by National Guardsmen. The four women were taken to an isolated location, raped, tortured, and shot. Then they were buried in a shallow grave beside the road. The National Guardsmen were also “good Catholics.”

These four women died in the same manner as many of the poor Salvadoran people they served. They are martyrs because they laid down their lives in love for the poor—just as Jesus calls all Christians to be prepared to do. The witness of these four women teaches us about listening to the call of Christ, taking up the cross and following Jesus, and being born again.

A stone cross and small plaque mark the country road where the four women were buried. It reads: “Receive them Lord into your Kingdom.”

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

Order Now: Daily Advent Reflections for Radical Discipleship Communities

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.

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.

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..

#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).

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