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

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?”

Kennel Shank: Advent Longing in Real Time

Two candlesI was happy to read this lovely Advent meditation from former Sojourners intern Celeste Kennel Shank in The Mennonite Weekly Review.

The longing of Advent came early for many of us this year. Amid economic recession, war and strife around the globe and in our communities, we desire Christ’s coming.

We remember loved ones missing from around our tables this Christmas. We mourn ongoing conflict and oppression in so many places. We feel the sting of lost jobs, income and savings in our families and churches, and among our neighbors.

We need the renewed hope of Christmas morning to break into our tiredness and despair.

The prophet Isaiah spoke to a weary people in exile, and speaks to us today, exiles in a strange land. Isaiah promises, “Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together” (40:4-5a).

It is difficult to imagine such transformation when we look around us. President Obama’s decision to send more troops to Afghanistan dashes hopes, at least for several years, of an end to the U.S. military campaign there.

The announcement also is a setback for those who expected substantial change in U.S. foreign policy, and a focus of economic resources on human needs in our country and abroad.

Yet Christ was born into such a world of woe, to a poor family in an occupied land. He was lain, newborn, in the lowliest of places, with a murderous tyrant seeking his death.

Despite such strife, we can picture the hope of Mary and Joseph as they held the infant and imagined how the angel Gabriel’s promises would come to pass.

Read Celeste’s whole commentary here.

Thomas Merton’s Trees

"Merton's Porch" by Paul Quenon
"Merton's Porch" by Paul Quenon

Today, I cut a few Christmas trees for the house, and a big one for the novitiate. It was not quite raining, but cloudy and cold. Walked home alone by the lake near Bardstown road. The loblolly pines planted during my 1955 crisis are doing well. The whole property is dotted with trees I have planted in hours of anguish. The ones I planted in hours of consolation have not succeeded.–Thomas Merton

From Thomas Merton’s Journals [3:360]

Shall the Mountains Fall and Hills Turn to Dust?

peruandes

Over at the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns site, Maryknoll lay missioner Barbara Fraser has a nice reflection for the second Sunday of Advent. Fraser spent many years in Peru.

In the Andes mountains, water is life. Rains fall from November to March, during the growing season. In the dry months, however, people depend on glaciers, which slowly release water, irrigating pastures where animals graze and feeding streams that provide water for drinking and washing. As the glaciers disappear, the pastures dry up, and neighbors begin to fight over access to the remaining pastures and streams. Some cannot continue to make a living from the land. They migrate to cities, where they face hardship and discrimination, because they have little formal education and do not speak Spanish well.

Farmers in the Andes see the world they have known collapsing around them, because of the changing climate. What they feel is probably similar to what the Israelites felt when they were in exile, or what the Jews of John the Baptist’s time felt under foreign occupation. They lived in a time of  uncertainty, had little control over events, and did not know if they could promise their children a better future.

Today’s readings reminded them ­ and remind us ­ of God’s faithfulness and the promise of salvation. But the readings also remind us that God calls us to action, to prepare the way for salvation.

Read Barbara Fraser’s whole reflection here.