Praying with the power of paradox

Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA

I am on the shore of the Mississippi River. I can’t see into the water in this light. I can’t see the bottom of the river, or much more than the movement of the surface and the reflection of sky bright upon the ripples and waves.

I know something of this body of water, its power for life and destruction, its broadness and strength — but I’ve never before encountered these particular droplets joining together into the one mass that flows in front of me. It is at once so familiar and completely new.

I’ve never traveled to the source of this mighty stream nor to its end. I only know a slice of this water. I’ve crossed this river hundreds of times, but only a section, really — the bridges between the Twin Cities and Dubuque. This region — often called the Upper Mississippi Valley — feels most like home to me, compared to any other place I have been.

The presence of this stream during different eras of my life has convinced me I know this river well, has put me into relationship with it, has established an affection for it within me. Only reluctantly, awkwardly, can I admit that…

[This is the beginning of my latest column for the online newspaper, Global Sisters Report. Continue reading here.]

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!

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

the power of paradox

Our world is a mess and in need of redemption.  Christ is coming to save us.  Yet, Christ the Light has already come to save us and we are redeemed now. The Kingdom of God is now and not yet.  There’s a power in the paradox that teaches us how to hold out hope.

Yesterday I was attempting to explain the spirituality of paradox to my advanced sophomores as we lit the third candle on our classroom Advent wreathe.  Since we are all about Gaudete this week, things shift a bit. I told the students that we continue to prepare for the coming of Light into the world, yet rejoice over the fact that Christ is with us now.  How can two things that seem contradictory both fit together so well?  With God it works this way, since with God all things are possible.

To help my students grapple with the power of paradox, I found myself on a tangent about light years.  We calculated the actual distance of a light year and became overwhelmed with our smallness.  It is possible, I told them, to see starlight from a star that is actually already dead right now.  How is that possible?  Science and spiritual paradox tell us a lot about the Truth of God’s Light.

It’s advent, the hope season. Good news and good actions help us gain hope in humanity and the coming of Christ.  Even though it’s not yet Christmas, we can celebrate how Light keeps glowing despite death and darkness.

True, there’s a litany of injustice, oppression, sin and suffering that is wider than the world we know.  We know wars are raging and Earth is crying and people are dying. Economic inequality is ridiculous. (Did you know that if you earn more than $34,000 a year you are the global 1%!?)  It doesn’t take much for us to be overwhelmed and want to give up and just face the doom.  We’re responsible for making a difference, but how can we?  It’s a big job to be good like God made us.

Fortunately, with God, all things are possible.  We know that the rich and powerful nations and individuals have a big influence.  Globally and economically speaking, the ways that we consume creates systems and structures that influence lives elsewhere. All we do matters and has power to share hope.  These days, people know that there are problems, they’re talking about the problems and structures are improving.  Our world is changing and things are getting better, because God is already here.  We can celebrate the Light of increased awareness and converted conversations which permit joyous transformation and systemic change.

To really believe–to really have hope– we sometimes need to hear a story.  Have you heard of how the Dodd-Frank act has influenced people in Congo?  It’s wild and wonderful.  The major Wall Street reforms that became law in the summer of 2010 had a tiny stipulation that said that the minerals in the electronics of Americans can no longer be mined in a conflict. In other words, the minerals used to manufacture our cell phones and laptops now have to be certified conflict-free.  A story on The World impressed me.  Evidently this new American law is challenging the government in Congo to become more just about their labor practices so that they can again trade their mined minerals with manufacturers in the U.S.A.  Fewer children are being forced to work in the mines at gun-point because some good social awareness influenced trade practices and ultimately shifted an economic paradigm.  It’s a great response to the discouraged questions of “can I really make a difference? Can we really have hope?”

Yes you CAN make a difference and you do!  You are part of a global community.  You are a child of God, you are the Light of the world.  God is with you, using you as an instrument in your ordinary acts of life.  We are instruments of Word and action.  In word, we tell good news. I am sure you know your own stories about the goodness of God at work in us now. Good news holds hope out to the despairing.  Get ready for Christmas: tell the good news, let light shine on the hopeful happenings in humanity.  In action, you can be the good news and therefore a beacon of hope.  Make Advent choices that empower others. Thoughtfully give gifts, serve, create, or be generous.   As you hold out hope to others through word and deed, you truly help prepare the way of the Lord!

Christ who is coming and Christ who is here now is the Light. Bright beams glow through the darkness.  With this Light all things are possible, even glory out of our sinful lives.  Gaudete!