I don’t know about you but I am still trying to find my way into the Advent Journey this year. It seems as though this season of heralded hope and promise of the coming of love and justice is somewhere on the edges of my consciousness. I am not able to summon Advent to center space in my prayer or in the rest of my day to day life right now. There is something else preoccupying my spirit. I believe I am still absorbing the impact and consequences of our recent national elections and I am not ready at all to move into this beautiful season as fully as I would like. . From my conversations with friends and colleagues, I know this experience is not mine alone.
It’s as though our individual and collective experience of disbelief overrides the hope and belief that ordinarily propel us into Advent. It’s as though, in the midst of winter’s deepening darkness, the star light by which we navigate our day to day journey has been obscured. Vision is limited—like what we experience when driving in a dense fog. There is a sense of being adrift, of being lost and not quite sure about what direction to take in order to return home.
Nevertheless, this is where some of us are this Advent season. And, I don’t think we can embark with integrity into Advent from any other place but this one. And so to honor this 2016 Advent and this moment in our personal and national journey into God’s evolving future, I would offer these words by Leonard Cohen as a way into this moment in Advent time.
Anthem By Leonard Cohen
The birds they sang At the break of day “Start again,” I heard them say Don't dwell on what Has passed away Or what is yet to be.
Yeah the wars they will Be fought again The holy dove She will be caught again Bought and sold And bought again The dove is never free.
Ring the bells that still can ring Forget your perfect offering There is a crack in everything That's how the light gets in.
I have been reading some of the writing of Lynn Levo, csj, a recent LCWR speaker and staff member at the St. Luke’s institute in Maryland. I was struck by what she says about the role of men and women religious during times such as these. “In times of crisis”, she writes, “stopping to pause to gain perspective is essential. This is not the time to ‘look away’ no matter how difficult it is to stay engaged.” I would add, nor is this the time to blindly follow narrow and outdated notions of patriotism or spirituality for that matter. Rather this is a time to take long looks into the heart of the matter at hand and pray that in time, we can engage these signs of our times without judgment, or understandings constricted by cynicism, disassociation, arrogance or fear. If ever there was a time, to make room for the One –we- need- to -come, it is now. Crisis, as we all know from personal experience and from creation’s processes, creates a kind of liminal space in which we experience our usual strategies for resolution as ineffective. In crisis, we can only wait in hope for a new emergence, a new moment, a breakthrough. Crises, often cuts a pathway straight through the ordinary preoccupations of our daily lives and routines and hollows out a space where we only gradually come to know what is going on ‘within’ as well as ‘without.’ Ironically, it is precisely within this in-between, liminal space of crisis that we can choose, albeit uncomfortably, to await the emergence of something that is coming to birth—even if it is not quite clear when, how, or in what form it will arrive. This reality in which we live Advent this year, gives poignancy and new meaning to the advent prayer, “Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” As our ancestors came to know, “crisis” is the taproot of a generative and transformative power called faith. Crisis can focus the attention of a disparate and dispirited community. Crisis, as scripture scholars remind us, is the context in which prophecy and prophetic actions emerge. Perhaps this Advent season, we are called, more than ever, to let the words of the prophets of Advent seep more deeply into our souls and to guide our ministries during these difficult days. Comfort, comfort my people says our God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem. Go onto a high mountain and cry at the top of your voice, “Fear not.” Like a shepherd God will feed the flock; in God’s arms the vulnerable lambs are carried. God will lead the vulnerable ones with care Is 40: 1-11
Perhaps, during our daily Advent wreath rituals of this season, we should pause just a bit longer to let the advent candles rekindle the Creator’s fire of love, compassion and justice within us. Perhaps, this Advent, we should let the lingering scent of pine penetrate our distracted consciousness and remind us that we are held within a cosmic process in which “all is ever green”- everything always becoming new. And, as we each strive to stay engaged with these times, seeking the meaning that they contain let’s remember that the Advent season also holds a dangerous memory out to us. The dangerous memory is that at the darkest hours of Israel’s life- the exile— the transforming power of prophecy emerged. At the darkest moment of Israel’s occupation by the colonial forces of Rome, Jesus the Christ came to birth.
No doubt some of us are wondering, (given our demographics, given our challenges) what possible role can women religious play in the work of nurturing the emergence yet to come? What seems to be the consensus among today’s theologians, spiritual writers, and futurists is that “this is a critical transitional moment and we are called to tend the embers, i.e., manage disintegration and diminishment of our communities AND fan the flames of new life to birth new ways of living our charisms in a world beset by crisis. We are dealing with endings and losses that we must grieve and ultimately learn to let go of, and we must continue to search and to see how God is gifting us through these losses. Fostering new life is also who we are called to be.” (Levo)
As I consider the Advent reading from the Prophet Isaiah I can perceive a glimpse into our vocation/mission at this time.
Strengthen the hands that are feeble, Make firm the knees that are weak Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Hear is your God! Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, The ears of the deaf be cleared Then will the lame leap like a stag. For the tongue of the mute will sing Those whom God has ransomed Will return and enter Zion singing crowned with everlasting joy They will meet with joy and gladness Sorrow and mourning will flee. Is 35: 6a- 10
Levo says, “To be authentic religious today, we are challenged to choose life, so that we and our descendants may live (Deut 30: 20). Religious life, (your life and mine) exists to say something is possible in the era in which it is being lived.
So, perhaps this year’s Advent is asking us to consider
-What are we called to say is possible today –not only in words—but in how we are living and responding to this new time?
Sister Arlene Flaherty, OP