An Advent song for our age

Credit: https://www.shcj.org/reflection-on-the-visitation-of-mary/

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me, for at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.”Luke 1:41-44

Gaudete! This is the week of joyful anticipation!!

Just as Jesus and John leaped for joy in the wombs of their holy mothers, we rejoice and leap for joy as we wait for the great things to come, the fulfillment of God’s promises!

Yes, we are aware that we wait in darkness. We are overwhelmed and pained by the intensity of oppression suffered throughout the world, near and far. Children sleep on streets, many people lack adequate shelter and water, bombs are being dropped, refugees are fleeing. Poverty, injustice, and violence are real and serious threats upon the dignity of humanity.

Still, with hope and joy we lovingly labor for a world where God’s reign is known, wherein justice is triumphant.

No matter our circumstances, how can our voices contribute toward the coming fullness of God’s reign? How can we join our voices together and sing a song of reversal that is in harmony with the strength and hope heard in Mary’s song in Luke 1:46-55?

And Mary said:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;

my spirit rejoices in God my savior.

For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness;

behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.

The Mighty One has done great things for me,

and holy is his name.

His mercy is from age to age

to those who fear him.

He has shown might with his arm,

dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.

He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones

but lifted up the lowly.

The hungry he has filled with good things;

the rich he has sent away empty.

He has helped Israel his servant,

remembering his mercy,

according to his promise to our fathers,

to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Luke 1:46-55

 

I recently studied Elizabeth Johnson’s commentary on the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) within her masterful work Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints (Continuum, 2003) as part of my graduate studies. This writing encouraged me to remain faithful and hopeful in the midst of the struggle for justice. I was provided a solid footing in information about the requirements for justice.

Source: http://www.amazon.com/Truly-Our-Sister-Theology-Communion/dp/0826418279

For example, even though Mary’s song is the longest speech from any woman in the entire New Testament, it is one of several hymns sung by Jewish women; it is parallel in content and structure to what was sung by several prophetesses in the Old Testament. Like their songs, Mary’s song also praises God’s creation of a liberating revolution.[1]

With scholarship and reverence, Johnson details how Mary’s particular circumstances established her as dangerous for anyone who does not embrace God’s reign. God chose Mary, a poor woman, to be the partner in our salvation and she praises God from the depth of her relationship with God; God has preference for those who are economically and spiritually poor.[2]

Mary was an oppressed woman and her song paints a picture of justice; throughout salvation history we understand that God defines justice as reversal. Mary’s voice foreshadows Jesus’ message in the Gospels. Fittingly then, Mary’s song is a “revolutionary song of salvation whose concrete social, economic, and political dimensions cannot be blunted.”[3]

Praise and justice come together; by the life-giving body of the pregnant Mary we know a role model for solidarity with the oppressed. In her message, we can envision a world where all the hungry are fed and all power structures turn upside down.[4]

Mary’s song is a song for everyone, and it is very much music to the ears of people who live in poverty.[5] Yet, Johnson admits, “This message will not appeal to those who are satisfied with the way things are.” She advises that those who are prosperous strengthen their solidarity.[6] I was invigorated for my task of informing those of us who comfortably enjoy privileges about the needs of a hungry humanity, of calling all of us to more mindfulness.

Ultimately, Johnson’s commentary on the Magnificat provides me with a hopeful lens through which I can view the injustices of today. It taught me how to joyfully sing songs of response that glorify and please God, through both word and deed.

By Mary’s partnership we experience the dawning of the Messianic Age. Her song is also a daily prayer that can inform our every-day work of helping God’s justice reign. In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “This song has none of the sweet, nostalgic, or even playful tones of our Christmas carols. It is instead a hard, strong, inexorable song about collapsing thrones and humbled lords of this world, about the power of God and the powerless of humankind.[7]

Indeed, as Johnson so clearly articulated, in Mary’s universal song we hear the ultimate Advent hymn—a song of hope to reverse the patterns of suffering prevalent in the world today.

As we leap in joy and wait in hopeful anticipation for the coming of God’s Kingdom fully known, let us join Mary and do the work of establishing God’s justice while this song rings in our hearts!

AMEN!

[1] Elizabeth Johnson, Truly Our Sister (New York: Continuum, 2003), 263-264.

[2] Johnson, 264-265.

[3] Johnson, 269.

[4] Johnson, 271.

[5] Johnson, 269.

[6] Johnson, 270.

[7] Johnson, 267.

 

Mercy-ing as a form of resistance

We pray in the dark during these Advent days while we wait for the coming of the Light, of love enfleshed.

The darkness is everywhere and impacts each of us. We encounter pain and violent words, messages and behavior when we pay attention to the news, when we share in our neighbor’s pain, when we tune into the tension and the fear that is intensely plaguing humanity. Even the earth itself seems to be mourning our destructiveness and greed. Our hearts ache with sadness and anger as shootings, terrorism, and hate-mongering become more frequent.

In the darkness of discouragement, temptation comes quick. Maybe I shouldn’t bother or What difference does it make if I am charitable? or Why should I help them if I can’t even get my own life together? or How can we trust anyone!? Ugly attitudes of apathy and doubt can creep in and corrode at our faith and hope. Just like everyone else, we are capable of turning away from love and succumbing to fear and hate.

It is messy and challenging, but by the grace of God, we will not give into temptation. We will resist all darkness by offering compassionate alternatives in the face of fear and pain. The words of Ephesians 5 shall be our marching song as we rise up and rally as children of light:

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light,for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth.Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness; rather expose them,for it is shameful even to mention the things done by them in secret;but everything exposed by the light becomes visible,for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore, it says:
“Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”  
Ephesians 5:8-14

Yes, there are many ways that we can resist this darkness and unite as children of the light.  Especially now that the Jubilee Year of Mercy has begun, we will act as instruments of forgiveness and mercy.

Pope Francis has invited us all to imitate God, as mercy is an action, an attitude that the world desperately needs from us all now. “Mercy-ing calls us to forgive the unforgivable, to look tenderly upon the unappealing and the troublesome, to be compassionate to the ungrateful. It demands that we give a full measure, packed down and flowing over, and to empty our granaries again and again for those who cannot hope to repay us. It asks us to open our hands and hearts, not because we expect mercy in return, but because who we yearn to become could not—did not—do anything less for us.”  Although the word mercy-ing is made up by Pope Francis, this aspect of our faith goes all the way back to the days of Christ.

There are many ways that we can resist the darkness and get active mercy-ing during this Advent time.

Here are just a few examples of what others are doing. No one of us can do it all, so when one of us is mercy-ing then we all are:

Today, on Human Rights Day, and on other days we rally throughout the world. (Human Rights Day marks the anniversary of the international adoption of Universal Declaration of Human Rights).

We recommit ourselves to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. We prayerfully say “yes” to the Gospel mission of loving our neighbors and enemies. 

Photo credit: Southern Rosary Works

We resist racism and xenophobia by opening our hearts, our Churches, our homes to refugees and immigrants. 

#JesusWasARefugee at La Salle Street Church, @ShaneClaiborne on Twitter
#JesusWasARefugee at La Salle Street Church, @ShaneClaiborne on Twitter

We pray for an end of all forms of torture and violence and speak out on behalf of the victims. 

We refuse to participate in the consumeristic, materialistic side of holiday celebrations and gear up for the Billion People March on December 19th.  

We boldly ask for spaces to be opened up to people in need of shelter

We acknowledge the fact that we are creatures in need of God’s mercy, and ask God and others for forgiveness. 

We willingly forgive those who have hurt us and we do simple acts of reconciliation, like sending notes of reconciliation and peace to rebuild relationships.

We light candles on our Advent wreaths and sing songs of joyful anticipation.

Yes, indeed, it’s amazing how the light shall come! Thanks be to God, in all of these acts of mercy-ing, our faith burns bright and we proclaim that Christ is our Light! Amen!

 

The Advent wreath

I’m trying this again. I’m trying the traditional route of Advent. Growing up there were certain traditions my family definitely participated in. We hung stockings over our fireplace in anticipation of St. Nick on December 6.

Then at church we would choose a construction ornament from the giving tree, giving us a suggestion of a gift to buy for someone less fortunate. I always liked picking out books or mittens. Warm thoughts and warm hands are always welcomed in the winter.

Our family was always focused on giving to others, and I’m so grateful for that experience and ethic that is ingrained in me. But I never truly understood the concept of Advent until I lived some painful personal truths. At church I knew we lit candles in anticipation of Jesus, but it was quite the concept to wrap my child mind around.

Advent is to understand that we are gradually building light to embrace the darkest night of the year. That each of us takes this time to work on ourselves to BE that light, for others, for ourselves, for our loved ones and for strangers, to remember the lost and those living in that darkness of fear and pain.

It is a stirring in us of hope; it is belief in the impossible, the absurd, the miracles and the hopeless cases. It is a chance to be ridiculously optimistic and excited. It gives us a chance to open space in our hearts for whatever hope brings.

Photo courtesy of https://pixabay.com/en/candles-light-lights-evening-64177/
Photo courtesy of pixabay.com

Advent brings Christ, the Christ in ourselves, so we can BE Christ to each other and bring His presence forward in what we do. So I have made my wreath this year, and I will light it, and pray with it. It’s a daily reminder to bring out the light I have to share. I hope you will, too.

 

 

Bring on the darkness

I don’t know why it is, this time of year, that I gear up for action. Once Daylight Saving Time ends, I’m ready to go. Most people tend to simmer down when the cold weather seeps in, the nights get longer, the house gets cozier, and the soups just sound more delicious.

I’m ready to get OUT. Let’s lose some weight! Yes! Right before and during the holidays! Yes: that makes perfect sense! In fact, let’s get all the outside projects done while the night approaches and we work in the darkness. Because who doesn’t love not seeing what they’re doing?

Photo courtesy of www.freeimages.com
Photo courtesy of www.freeimages.com

Honestly, where was all this energy during the summer when it could be more useful? This flummoxes me every year. But what helps me feel a little more normal is that it nicely lines up with Advent. Maybe it’s a little earlier than the season, but you get the idea.

I get EXCITED when the nights get longer. It forces me to contemplate. It makes me go inside myself and do some really difficult work. Darkness lets me dream more, and my dreams are little messages from God helping me through that work. It helps me free up emotional and spiritual space for more adventures—lovely adventures that open your life up to the spirit of Jesus and never-ending possibility.

I think sometimes we just stuff ourselves silly with the status quo of our lives. We keep our stuff because it gives us security and confidence, and we don’t want to ever waste anything. Some of this is completely appropriate, but I’m pretty sure there are areas in our lives that need to be thinned out. Are we scared to have vacancy somewhere? Does that make us vulnerable to … what … despairing need? Or does it open us up to more rewarding opportunities?

Sure I could wait until Advent to get started, but personally I think this process takes longer than 25 days. Clear out those cobwebs. Let’s REALLY get ready for Jesus this year, starting now.

Paradox, solidarity and these Advent days

For us Christians, our life is a life full of paradoxes. Heaven is now and not yet. Jesus is with us always and is coming again.

During Advent, we celebrate paradoxes while remembering that we are people of light and darkness. Suffering and joy are both part of the fullness of the human experience.

The Nativity story also speaks of thick darkness and joyful anticipation. Quietly, Mary and Joseph move toward Bethlehem. Very pregnant and traveling through an occupied and violent land, the journey is risky and uncomfortable. Even so, they believe in the goodness soon to come through the birth of their son Jesus. Peace surrounds as well as an inescapable awareness about the darkness of oppression.

Nativity scene in Greccio, Italy by Julia Walsh, FSPA

Together, Mary and Joseph have chosen to trust in God’s mysterious plan. Going about things according to God’s way doesn’t mean that all hardship comes to an end. Quite the contrary. As the Gospels testify, discipleship usually leads one right into trouble, darkness and persecution.

It is the same with us: as disciples who chose to trust in God’s ways over our own. We journey with those who struggle and seem powerless. We don’t avoid suffering, we head right into it. We know that the power of God’s light, peace and joy can strengthen us no matter how heavy and hard the darkness of the human experience may be. We move to the ugly, polluted margins of society because we believe that is where we will encounter God.

This means we must be people of solidarity who are responding to the signs of the times. We do all we can to confront racial injustice and vigil for discrimination and violence to end. We bemoan the sin of torture and advocate for the closing of illegal prisons like Guantanamo. We are not naive about the pains of this planet and join millions in demanding more radical environmental actions to free us from the dangers of climate change.

Yes: during these Advent days we are called to be vibrant lights of hope in a dark and troubled world. Through our acts of solidarity, we embrace the darkness so to shine brightly and gleam out hope, joy and celebration.

As Shane Claiborne writes, “Celebration is at the very core of our kingdom, and hopefully that celebration will make its way into the darkest corners of our world– the ghettos and refugee camps, and the palaces and prisons. May the whispers of hope reach the ears of hope–hungry people in the shadows of our world.”

Amen!

A hand in a miracle

Photo credit: http://www.liturgies.net/saints/mary/guadalupe/prayers.htm
Photo credit: http://www.liturgies.net/saints/mary/guadalupe/prayers.htm

Imagine you’re making your way throughout your day, doing your job, or maybe just going for a walk. And suddenly, you are dazzled, bewildered, so incredibly confused, but there’s this stunning image in front of you. A ghost maybe? Some ethereal being, that’s for sure. I mean … she’s floating.

There’s a smell of roses maybe, or a feeling of incredible peace. And then, suddenly, she’s gone. Did she just speak to me? What … what did she say?

You go back to work or your home, share this news with a handful of people, and pretty soon you are that guy – that guy with the visions, the strangely healing visions. Which isn’t the best way to be known, seeing as there are some pretty intense suffering going on elsewhere for people experiencing visions.

She keeps visiting you. At this point, it would be nice to see more of her, maybe prove something, but do you kind of want her to go away?

What does she want?

Oh God. Make it stop or help me prove it.

And He proves it.

Oh Goodness, here we go.

Today, right now, if you saw Our Lady of Guadalupe, if she appeared to you and shared her message … would you recognize it? Would you believe it? Would you trust your experience enough to know that this was something sacred? Would you share it?

Can you imagine if Juan Diego didn’t?

Take some time to recognize and share your sacred experiences this Advent. You may just have a hand in a miracle.

 

Praying in the dark

The light is dim and the air is frigid. With Advent’s arrival in this part of the world, we continue to feel the days shorten and the darkness increase.

Whether the light is dimming or not, though, another type of darkness is also apparent: the darkness of suffering. Far and near, people experience violence, injustice and pain.

Some of the suffering, like the death of a Sister in my community, is a natural part of the human condition. Other heavy human experiences of suffering, such as war, poverty and inequalities are conditions we have simply brought upon ourselves by our sins of selfishness and greed. I am feeling especially discouraged by the horrific plan to execute Scott Panetti in Texas later today. The reality that the death penalty still exists and compassion doesn’t seem to be universal hurts all humanity. We are all interconnected and because of our social sins we are suffering together in this darkness.

Advent reminds us of the power of Light in the darkness, the Light of the world, Jesus Christ. During this sacred season we are invited to have bold hope, generous love, and wild trust in God: such actions help Light burn brighter in our hurting hearts and world.

A friend of mine who I know through Giving Voice, created the following beautiful video meditation. While we ready our hearts and lives for the coming of Christ, let us light candles in the dark. Let us pray and hold vigils through the dark nights that help us remember the strength of our Love. Even one small candle can illumine darkness. Love and light shall guide us to greater awareness of Truth to the awesomeness of joy. God is so good and we all have lights to shine!

Have a blessed Advent all!

"love light" by Julia Walsh, FSPA
“love light” by Julia Walsh, FSPA

Praying to Slow so Silence may Swallow

In the time of now-and-not-yet tangled together, I pray that my final days of Advent anticipation shall slow down and seem more sacred.

Poetry pours from my soul as I offer God this hope.

Silence swallows by Julia Walsh, FSPA

Silence swallows

me. Holy is this

invasion. Enter

mystery. Evasion

impossible. Listening

lines lift up signs:

Wait. Surrender. 

Forward frosty Light.

Now and not yet makes

me: more free. Hushed. Be.

Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA

Street violence and holy darkness

This past Monday one of my former students was shot and killed on the streets of Chicago.

Advent is a time of darkness.  Sometimes it is obvious to us that there’s a such thing as holy darkness. And, sometimes the darkness is so cold and heavy that it seems to swallow our hope.

During Advent we are called to open up our lives to the hope that our heartaches make us hungry for.  No matter how overwhelmed or ugly things may seem, we try to resituate our habits and hearts and create time and spaces so Love may arrive and change us.

When the darkness that corrupts our anticipation is because of ugly injustice, we can become tempted to turn away from Truth.  The Truth is that many powerful promises are packed into the waiting within Mary’s womb.

How do we not give into the temptations so that we remain faithful to our trust in Love?  The nativity story teaches us that we can only do this through community.  Together we know that even when life flings the worst at us we need to allow openings as wide as canyons for Christ’s coming.  No chaos ought to cause us to close our minds or hearts to the changes that come from Christ’s presence.  Really wide openings of anticipation and healing hope emerge when we collect as communities and pray, cry, vigil, and serve together.

Only when we’re bonded together can Christ’s peace crack through the din of despair.  That’s why good Advent activity happens in community.

Mensa’s death on Monday was another moment of senseless street violence. No one should ever be killed by another person, but when the victim is a young man full of great energy it’s especially awful. I knew Mensa  from when I served at the now-closed St. Gregory the Great High School in 2008-2009. Then, he was an ordinary teenage boy who was very kind, smiley, helpful and humble– certainly someone who could have helped create more peace on the streets.

Before my former colleagues reached me with the news about Mensa, another sister and I had spent some of Monday night hanging up Christmas decorations. We giggled, climbed on furniture and hung lights and bows in open spaces around the house as cheery Christmas carols blared from the stereo. I had the special privilege of setting up the simple nativity scene on the commode in our dining room.  The nativity scene is the centerpiece of all our decorations, so I tried to arrange it with great care.

In the creche, Mary, Joseph, an angel, and a couple of animals all are focusing their attention on an empty trough.  When Baby Jesus shows up on Christmas Eve, he’ll get tucked right into the little bed that they’re focused on.  Although Mary and Joseph are technically just figurines in the scene, their posture is a great reminder for me of how to wait in holy darkness.

"Advent Nativity" photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“Advent Nativity” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA

They’re together. They’re quiet. They’re very still.  They could get tired from being faithful to allowing an open space for God to be between them.  Yet, they boldly believe that Love will arrive, so they continue to wait.

We all are waiting for Love to arrive and feed our hungry, hurting hearts.  We are together, trying to be quiet and still, no matter the commotion.  We may get tired and overwhelmed by the injustices and suffering, yet we’re trying to allow signs of hope to be seen in the darkness. We’ll light candles and vigil on street corners, we’ll fast outside government buildings and we’ll pray through the night. As we do, we’ll create openings for quiet so Christ can come tell us of light, peace, and joy.

The holy darkness gets cold, especially when someone like Mensa dies.  Yet we’ll keep waiting in silent expectation because we still believe. Even in the darkness, healing happens and hope can arrive. Amen!

Advent is drawing to a close

By guest blogger: Amy Nee

Advent is drawing to a close, Christmas is almost upon us.  Once again, I feel that the days have passed all too quickly.  I seem to have been too busy to attend to advent. Now Christmas Day is around the corner and I have this uneasy feeling that I’ve missed something, that I’m not ready yet.

How often this is the case!  I imagine that having a time for waiting is equivocal to having extra time.  So much time that it’s common to talk casually about “killing” or “wasting” it.  Then, as I do verbal violence to time I wound all that lives within it; killing and wasting the potential waiting to be born in every moment.  Momentous events that were meant to come as presents become a presentiment for which I am un or under prepared.

But it’s not too late!  Advent is not over yet!  And really, is advent about waiting through a patch of time or practicing a way of being, practicing and paying attention, learning to listen.  I am beginning to think of advent being akin to waiting on a table.  An active stance, attending to a particular table and to its place in a larger room; listening, watching, anticipating, understanding, acting according to what has been seen and heard.

Advent being a time of waiting that precedes Christmas gives context for the attention, a framework, a particular story, instead of a particular table, and how that story stands in the context of time, historical and present. This story reveals Mary, minding her own business, surprised by an angel who tells her not to fear, an angel to whom she responds with acquiescent boldness, “May it be done unto me according to your word.”  Joseph too is taken by surprise, no doubt.  Before any angelic intervention he discovers that his betrothed is with child (and it is evidently not his).  Analyzing the situation, channeling conviction, and perhaps affection, into a generous, socially acceptable action, “unwilling to put [Mary] to shame, [Joseph] resolved to divorce her quietly.”1

And this could very well have been the last we hear of Joseph.  Indeed, we may not ever have heard of Joseph accept that, though he had “resolved” in his mind the action he would take, he was waiting.  Despite his logical, even loving resolve, “he considered these things.”  Joseph too heard the voice of an angel, speaking to him in a dream, saying “do not fear to take Mary as your wife,” he paid attention, overcame the constraints of his anxieties and in so doing entered a new life.

“Do not fear,” continually accompanies the angelic announcements.  Indeed, it would require a love that casts out fear to hear, receive and act on the words these angels delivered.  Had God’s messenger not intervened, had Joseph been preoccupied, he may have inadvertently been excluded from being a key player in God’s remarkable plan. What God desired of Joseph was not that he follow the law of the land (which would have allowed Joseph to divorce Mary publicly), nor to be politely philanthropic (to show continued care and preserve Mary’s life and some shred of dignity).  He was being invited as Mary was (dare I say, as we are?) to move from memory to imagination, to enlarge reason with faith, to take a counter-cultural stand, to stand with God.

The invitation is to participation in Incarnation, an it is an invitation continually extended, even today.  That is what the waiting is for and it is not just about a baby born in Bethlehem (but oh what a beautiful image of vulnerability and interdependence – what tender, bold risk!), it is happening everyday; God with us, in us, around us. To receive and respond to such an invitation we need to listen and allow the spirit to supplement and surprise our intellect with the impossible possibilities of God; we need courage.

Advent is almost over, but it is ultimately a reminder, and one that does not lose its relevance with the changing of the season.  The waiting is not wrapped up once Christmas arrives, nor is it an indication of empty time standing in the way of a day that is grander than that which is present.  The waiting is a reminder to attend to this moment, to recognize Emmanuel, “God with us.”

So I am learning to listen to God who is always with us, not only on a particular day or in a particular place, but on every day, in every place.  And to listen to my heart, attending to its quakes and whimpers. What voices are countering the echoing instruction, “do not fear”?  What inhibitions obstruct from taking part in God’s extraordinary vision?  Where am I blinded by lack of imagination?  What sights and sounds are keeping me so distracted that I’ve no longer eyes to see and ears to hear?

This is the time. Wait, be still, listen.

Footnote: 1. Scripture references from Matthew 1:19-20, ESV.