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.

“We Astronomers” by Rebecca Elson

Orion Nebula from Hubble
Orion Nebula from Hubble

We Astronomers
by Rebecca Elson

We astronomers are nomads,
Merchants, circus people,
All the earth our tent.
We are industrious.
We breed enthusiasms,
Honour our responsibility to awe.

But the universe has moved a long way off.
Sometimes, I confess,
Starlight seems too sharp,

And like the moon
I bend my face to the ground,
To the small patch where each foot falls,

Before it falls,
And I forget to ask questions,
And only count things.

From A Responsibility to Awe by Rebecca Elson (Oxford Poets, 2001)

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 just concluded. 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..