Wednesday, December 9, 2009


"The Christian mysteries are an indivisible whole. If we become immersed in one, we are led to all the others" ~Edith Stein

We can find rest in mystery. The place of mystery is somewhere real that we can live, if only we let our hearts truly settle down into mystery as reality and escape the need for explanation. Interestingly, this a truth I have discovered mainly through women writers. Men want to explain things. Think of Lewis, of Chesterton--delightful men of mighty faith who are perhaps best known for their apologetics.

And though their clever explanations have proved helpful to many (including myself), Christmas is not the time of year for them. It is too miraculous. We cannot explain God becoming a man and, furthermore, being born--of a virgin. We cannot explain the Creator having a mother, angels appearing to shepherds, or the compulsion of a few scholars to follow one lone star such a distance.

At Christmas, accept a miracle. In the words of a woman who seems to understand mystery (even if that is an oxymoron)--"Don't try to explain the Incarnation to me! It is further from being explainable than the furthest star in the furthest galaxy" ~Madeleine L'Engle.

Monday, December 7, 2009

"Capable of being truly shocked"

"What if, instead of doing something, we were to be something special? Be a womb. Be a dwelling for God. Be surprised." ~Loretta Ross

Today I will meditate on two readings, one from Alfred Delp, a Jesuit priest was imprisoned in a Nazi prison and eventually hung for his opposition to Hitler. The other, from Loretta Ross, a minister in the Presbyterian church, and founder of the Sanctuary Foundation for Prayer. Although on the surface these two writers seem quite different, their Advent message is much the same--which can be summarized, as Delp says, "It is time for a waking up to begin somewhere." And so, we celebrate this coming year after year, we fallen humans needing a constant reminder--or "waking up" to--of reality, that is, the message of the gospel.

But do we even allow ourselves to wake up? Perhaps we drown out the message of Advent--and even blessings from God--by busying ourselves with the season. Our assumption is that celebration and grandeur go hand in hand, and so we put up lights, bake dozens of cookies for people we hardly see all year, bring out the wreaths, and empty our bank accounts. We celebrate Advent by preparing--not our hearts, but our homes. How can Christ possibly break in through the tinsel and mistletoe?

Delp says that "Advent is a time when we ought to be shaken and brought to a realization of ourselves." The realization is that we need God's love. We need Christmas, the arrival of our Savior. Ross points out that we might miss this arrival as we hurry around fulfilling Christmas traditions. But, more importantly, Christ comes anyway.

The challenge from these readings is to examine not only how we celebrate, but what. Ross challenges us saying that "God asks us to give everything of ourselves." Mary, after all, gave her womb (and also her willingness, her belief).

What does all this mean? I confess, I don't plan on giving up Christmas traditions. I probably won't give up any of them (even that silly pickle ornament). But I hope--I pray--my focus will be right. That I will not be thinking about all the things that go into this season, but my own poverty, and how desperately my heart needs to dwell in this special arrival.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The darkness shall not overcome it...

Today's reading, by Isaac Penington, is a meditation on one of the Christian ideas that I most resonate with--Christ as light in the darkness. I've always loved this imagery, but I first realized its power when studying Asian literature in college, and read about Surya, the Hindu sun god, or god of light. Reading poetry on him, I was struck by how meaningful the image of light would be to any person, no matter their race or culture. The God of Light is universal.

And Christ claims this truth. He is the light--a substance so infinitely attractive.

Penington muses, "But of what nature is this light which shineth in man in his dark state? It is of a living nature; it is light which flows from life." And so in Jesus, true life is found. When we receive his light, we receive life.

Penington points out that this light is life-giving, opposed to just knowledge-giving. We usually associate illumination with the acquisition of some new information or even wisdom. But as Paul points out in 1 Corinthians,

Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?...Christ [is] the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishess of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength. (1:20,24-25)

This is the light of God. I have always thought of the light in the darkness primarily in aesthetic terms, but also as a sort-of guide. But Christ's light is more than that. It is beyond this world.

And so, he who came into this world will give us life beyond it.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Divine Dawning by Karl Rahner

Today's reading takes the form of a prayer, as Rahner rambles at length to God on the topic of Advent. It seems that Rahner covers all the bases, including, what seems to me, doubt, as here:

"Are you the eternal Advent? Are you he who is always still to come, but never arrives in such a way as to fulfill our expectations? Are you the infinitely distant One who can never be reached?"

Rahner is wondering what the Advent of God really means. What does it mean that we wait, and what does it mean that God himself--he who has no beginning and end--has an arrival? Surely God can't just show up on the scene--he's been here all along.

Rahner's understanding--or faith--seems to grow as he prays, eventually saying,

"It is said that you will come again, and this is true. But the word again is misleading. It won't really be 'another' coming, because you have never really gone away. In the human existence that you made your own for all eternity, you have never left us."

Why then, do we celebrate Advent, why do we celebrate Christmas? Perhaps it is more about us drawing close to God. It is our arrival in relationship with him. He is already here.