21 December 2015

Advent people

“We are living in Advent and are preparing the way for the Coming One.” (105)  Jürgen Moltmann, in his book A Broad Place, isn’t simply referring to the liturgical season of Advent.  He’s referring to life itself, especially the life of faith (and Christian life in particular).  He’s exploring a theme from his classic work Theology of Hope from four decades earlier.  He says, “The foundation of hope
is not utopia and the exploration of unknown future possibilities; it is the new beginning and the beginning of the new, here and now, today.”

Advent is possibly my favorite season in the church calendar, and still, somehow it eludes me.  It is always “not yet,” at least “not yet” for me.  I still have trouble wrapping my head and spirit around it.  I get the theology, the meaning, of it.  (Or at least I tell myself I do!)  But does it change the way I live?  Do I have the determined commitment to prepare the way?

The epistle reading for Year A of the 1st Sunday of Advent is from Romans 13.  St. Paul says that “it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep… …the night is far gone, the day is near” (vv. 11-12).  As Advent people, we are called to wake from our slumber.

Maybe that’s why Advent seems so vague to me.  Am I too reluctant to “lay aside the works of darkness”?  We do need darkness to sleep—and sleeping is so comfortable.  (But sleeping through life!)  And our culture, with its shiny gadgets, and people filling us with fear, and reminding us of our duty to consume…

Advent says that now is the time to prepare the way.  Tomorrow never comes.

09 December 2015


Human Rights Day is tomorrow, and after listening to the madness of Donald Trump’s comments about barring entry by Muslims into the US, I told my wife that I needed to bathe my mind in the sanity of Neil deGrasse Tyson.

I was reminded of him while watching a replay of last Sunday’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine, in which he had a cameo appearance.  So I tuned into the excellent show he did, the updated version of Cosmos, which I’ve been revisiting.

As fate (?) would have it, the episode appearing was “Hiding in the Light,” which features, among others, Ibn al-Haytham.  (His name was Latinized as Alhazen.) One thousand years ago in present-day Iraq, he developed what would be called the scientific method.  His specialty?  The study of light.

In 2005, Brian Turner, a US veteran who had served in Bosnia and Iraq, published a book of poetry called Here, Bullet.  I mentioned this eight years ago.  I made special attention to his poem, “Alhazen of Basra.”  Here it is again:

“If I could travel a thousand years back
to August 1004, to a small tent
where Alhazen has fallen asleep among books
about sunsets, shadows, and light itself,
I wouldn’t ask whether light travels in a straight line,
or what governs the laws of refraction, or how
he discovered the bridgework of analytical geometry;
I would ask about the light within us,
what shines in the mind’s great repository
of dream, and whether he’s studied the deep shadows
daylight brings, how light defines us.”

On previous Human Rights Days, I’ve focused purely on the meaning of the day.  I wanted to go a little more “right brained” this time.  So what better way to rail against the darkness of human rights violations and small-minded bigotry than to focus on the light?

05 December 2015


“The expensive people are those who, because they are not simple, make complicated demands—people to whom we cannot respond spontaneously and simply, without anxiety.  They need not be abnormal to exact these complicated responses; it is enough that they should be untruthful or touchy or hypersensitive or that they have an exaggerated idea of their own importance or that they have a pose.” (24)  [My emphasis.]  This is from A Child in Winter, selections from the writings of Caryll Houselander, with Thomas Hoffman doing the editing and providing commentary.

Expensive people.  As you might guess, Houselander isn’t limiting this to those with extravagant tastes.  They aren’t simply those who turn their nose up at a Honda Fit and insist on something like a BMW 7 Series.  Nor are they those who praise to the high heavens a chocolatey, nutty microbrew, while dismissing anything with the word “Budweiser” on it as rancid swill.  (Okay, maybe I have to go along with that one!)

Expensive people are those who maintain a façade, an outer image, who lack a genuine sense of humor; they have a rigid, defensive posture.  Taking oneself too seriously often results in setting artificial standards for others—and for oneself.  Houselander observes, “In time, our relationship with them becomes unreal.”

Still, maybe that description of unreality is closer to home than we would like.  I fear that too often the mirror shows us someone who is unreal.  I wonder: might this be an extreme version of what St. Paul calls the “old self”?  (Rom 6:6 & Eph 4:22, among other places).  It’s this appearance of the illusory self that we struggle mightily to preserve.

She goes on, “The individual who is simple, who accepts themselves as they are, makes only a minimum demand on others in their relations with them…  This is an example of the truth that whatever sanctifies our own soul does, at the same time, benefit everyone who comes into our life.” (25)

There is within all of us—and some endearing souls humbly excel at giving free rein to it—a place of lightness and bliss and divine foolishness.  In this place, there is no need to pose.  In this place, we aren’t a weight around the necks of others.  In this place, our opinions need not carry the day.

Moving, not posing, through life is just fine!

[The image is by French photographer Zacharie Gaudrillot-Roy.]