Monday, December 7, 2015

An Advent Meditation: The Struggle for Hope As Dark Rises and Light Shifts, and Churches Become Trivial Cultural Adjuncts of Affluent Values

It's that time of year in which the waning of the light really does put us into a new — a different — space emotionally and spiritually. We wake these days to bleak darkness, and long before bedtime, the sun has vanished below the horizon. During the day, it comes into the house at new, and sometimes challenging, angles as it moves itself to the southern side of the sky.

I have a tripartite screen, a simple affair of some light wood or bamboo with squares of cotton painted with wildflowers, that I move around my office to block the light now beaming directly into my eyes through the window blinds at certain moments in the day. On the other side of the room, where the sunlight now flows in in beautiful waves as the afternoon goes on, Steve has rigged up an umbrella — to be precise, a parasol, something that is, as its name tells us, "against the sun" — to keep the sun from blinding me as I sit on that side of the house, facing south.

Waning light, light reaching us in unexpected new ways: there's a lesson here, and it's that lesson of which people of various religious traditions for many ages have wanted to remind us as they've celebrated feasts of the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere. Wake up: the light is at hand. Reform your life so that you can take advantage of its shining in, of its coming in surprising new ways into your everyday life.

Make what you can of the light offered you, since the darkness is rising: it's no wonder, is it, that this season of the year is a meditative and even melancholy one, a time in which we focus on what's beyond time itself, and which is threatening to burst into the ordinary, the mundane, the time in which we normally live. The advent of something that breaks everyday time in half is at hand.

For me this year, all of this is mixed with dread about what I anticipate will happen in our world as a result of the inevitable turn of one country after another, mine included, to the right, as events like the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino play out in ugly rivulets of hostility against those who are different, displaced, poor, who practice the "wrong" religion and speak the wrong language. The sharp turn to the right in the elections that just took place in France is a portent for our future, as is the similar turn that has just taken place in Venezuela.

Watch and be ready: the time is at hand.

The big challenge, it seems to me: how to find hope in a world in which the darkness is rising, and in which the super-rich have ever-increasing ability to turn almost any political event, but, in particular, mass shootings committed by people of the "wrong" religion and culture, to their own advantage? As if they are yoked in a symbiotic way to the attackers, feasting off the carnage the attackers produce, ready to reap a harvest of hate that will yield more power and control for those who already have immense power and control at their disposal . . . .

How to find hope in a world in which the pastoral leaders of major Christian churches choose to talk  — shouldn't this make us weep when it doesn't send us into fits of laughter? — about pornography and same-sex marriage as the dark rises, as portions of the globe now flood due to changes in the climate that threaten the very existence of life on this planet? Changes that have happened precisely because of that immense power and control of economic elites who beneft from exploitation of the natural world and of fellow human beings . . . . How to find hope in churches that have so trivialized their spiritual traditions that they have now become merely cultural adjuncts of affluent values, preaching a gospel carefully tailored to the needs of the comfortable while never seeking to imagine life beyond the pale of comfort?

These are the questions I ask myself as the light shifts and wanes, and now I offer them to you.

The photo: a photo Steve took of the dome of the Pantheon in Rome shortly after the winter solstice in December 2013.

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