Category Archives: Advent

Nativity

 Reflection for December 24, 2019

 On this Christmas eve, only a mystic or a poet might find words to offer us. Tonight we have such a gift from both John O’donohue and from Teilhard de Chardin

John O’donohue opens to our imagination Mary’s experience on this sacred night:  “Nativity”

No man reaches where the moon touches a woman.

Even the moon leaves her when she opens

Deeper into the ripple in her womb

That encircles dark to become flesh and bone.

Someone is coming ashore inside her.

A face deciphers itself from water

And she curves around the gathering wave,

Opening to offer the life it craves.

In a corner stall of pilgrim strangers,

She falls and heaves, holding a tide of tears.

A red wire of pain feeds through every vein

Until night unweaves and the child reaches dawn.

Outside each other now, she sees him first.

Flesh of her flesh, her dreamt son safe on earth.

John O’Donohue, Connemara Blues Doubleday, Great Britain, 2000

 Gazing into the mind, heart, and mystical, poetic soul of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, I wonder how he would mark the celebration of Christmas. As a brilliant scientist, creative thinker, man of faith, Teilhard brings into harmony recent discoveries about an evolving universe. His faith in the Christic presence is at the heart of it all.

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Christmas for Teilhard is a celebration of the eruption of divine love into space-time.

But how would Teilhard himself speak about the mystery of Incarnation? Let’s bend space-time imaginally to place ourselves in a small Jesuit Chapel somewhere in France, just after the Second World War. Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin walks to the pulpit to give the Christmas homily.  At first, his words sound like an overture to the symphony we have come to hear.

 

I shall allow … (a) picture to emerge — at first in apparent opposition to the dreams of the Earth, but in reality to complete and correct them — that of the inexpressible Cosmos of matter and of the new life, the Body of Christ, real and mystical, unity and multiplicity, monad and Pleiad. And, like a man who surrenders himself to a succession of different melodies, I shall let the song of my life drift now here, now there — sink down to the depths, rise to the heights above us, turn back to the ether from which all things came, reach out to the more-than-man, and culminate in the incarnate God-man.” (1)

 

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The Incarnation is a making new, a restoration, of all the universe’s forces and powers; Christ is the Instrument, the Centre, the End, of the whole of animate and material creation; through Him, everything is created, sanctified and vivified. This is the constant and general teaching of St. John and St. Paul (that most “cosmic” of sacred writers), and it has passed into the most solemn formulas of the Liturgy: and yet we repeat it, and generations to come will go on repeating it, without ever being able to grasp or appreciate its profound and mysterious significance, bound up as it is with understanding of the universe.

 

With the origin of all things, there began an advent of recollection and work in the course of which the forces of determinism, obediently and lovingly, lent themselves and directed themselves in the preparation of a Fruit that exceeded all hope and yet was awaited. The world’s energies and substances – so harmoniously adapted and controlled that the supreme Transcendent would seem to germinate entirely from their immanence—concentrated and were purified in the stock of Jesse; from their accumulated and distilled treasures, they produced the glittering gem of matter, the Pearl of the Cosmos, and the link with the incarnate personal Absolute—the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen and Mother of all things, the true Demeter… and when the day of the Virgin came to pass, then the final purpose of the universe, deep-rooted and gratuitous, was suddenly made clear: since the days when the first breath of individualization passed over the expanse of the Supreme Centre here below so that in it could be seen the ripple of the smile of the original monads, all things were moving towards the Child born of Woman.

 

And since Christ was born and ceased to grow, and died, everything has continued in motion because he has not yet attained the fullness of his form. He has not gathered about him the last folds of the garment of flesh and love woven for him by his faithful. The Mystical Christ has not reached the peak of his growth…and it is in the continuation of this engendering that there lies the ultimate driving force behind all created activity…Christ is the term of even the natural evolution of living beings. (2)   

 

 We leave the little chapel, our hearts ablaze. Now we truly have something to celebrate at Christmas.  Now too we have a task: co-creating, and through our own embodied lives bringing divine love more fully into every aspect of life on our planet. This could take some time. At the very least, it could take the rest of our lives!

 

(1)– Teilhard de Chardin, Writings in Time of War, pp. 15-16

(2)Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in The Future of Man translated from “L’Avenir de l’Homme (1959) by Norman Denny p.; William Collins Pub. London and Harper & Row Pub. New York, 1964

Mirroring Each Other’s Secret

Mary set out at that time and went as quickly as she could to a town in the hill country of Judah. She went into Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. Now as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She gave a loud cry and said, “Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord? For the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy. Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.” (Gospel of Luke: 1: 39-45)

Visitation

This moment in Mary’s story is so familiar that we may miss its deeper meaning. As a child, I was taught that it was about Mary being so unselfish that her first act following the angel’s visit was to rush over to assist Elizabeth who was six months pregnant.

I see it differently now. Now I know that when annunciation happens, when life is upturned with an unexpected invitation to birth newness, our hearts, like Mary’s, long for the presence of someone with whom to share the joy. Each of us experiences in those moments the absolute requirement of being with someone who knows mystery in the depths of her own being, as Elizabeth does.

Would not each one of us set out at that time and (go) as quickly as (we) could to the embrace of a friend whose gaze mirrors our wonder and delight?

John O’Donohue puts words to Mary’s longing in this poem:

The Visitation

In the morning it takes the mind a while

To find the world again, lost after dream

Has taken the heart to the underworld

To play with the shades of lives not chosen.

She awakens a stranger to her own life,

Her breath loud in the room full of listening.

Taken without touch, her flesh feels the grief

Of belonging to what cannot be seen.

Soon she can no longer bear to be alone.

At dusk she takes the road into the hills.

An anxious moon doubles her among the stone.

A door opens, the older one’s eyes fill.

Two women locked in a story of birth.

Each mirrors the secret the other heard.

(John O’Donohue  Conamara Blues)

 

As we take this fragment of Mary’s story, seeking for a likeness between her story and ours, what do we glimpse? How does her song resonate with ours?  When have we known what it is to awaken as “a stranger to (our) own life”?

Is there not in each one of us the fragility of something so utterly unimagined, yet wholly real, appearing in a morning’s glimpse, disappearing in evening’s shadow…. that we require a mirroring presence to affirm its existence?

Each of us has been invited to provide the inner space for newness to gestate in preparation for birth. Each of us knows the need to nurture this newness in times of solitude. Yet we know also the absolute requirement of being companioned by one another if our hearts are to remain open, nourished, and (as Hildegard says) juicy!

Each of us, like Mary, is walking a wholly new path, one whose gifts, ecstatic joys, shuddering griefs, are as unknown to us as Mary’s were to her. But I believe Elizabeth would bless each one of us as she did Mary:

Yes, blessed is the one who believed that the promise made by the Lord would be fulfilled.

 

 

Advent: Enchantment, Disenchantment, Re-enchantment

Advent One: Enchantment, Disenchantment, Re-enchantment

Advent was once my favourite Liturgical season. The weaving of a wreath that smelled of fir trees in winter forests. The candles whose shared light grew steadily with each week. The mysterious darkness of earth and heart, as both awaited the radiance, the wonder of Christmas. Enchantment.

There came a dark November day when I knew I would not gather the evergreen boughs that fell to the earth from generous trees near my home. I would not purchase four candles (three purple and one rose-coloured). I would not spend four weeks awaiting Christmas.  These symbols no longer held meaning: the four weeks of Advent were meant to represent the four thousand years that humans awaited the birth of Christ.

It was the Irish priest-writer Diarmuid O’Murchu who pointed out that paleontologists estimate human life on this planet was conscious at least six million years ago, and that timeline keeps getting pushed back…. Cosmologists, most notably the luminous Teilhard de Chardin, acknowledge that there is a form of spirit/light/consciousness in all that exists on the planet, including rocks. That takes us back to the beginnings of our universe, more than thirteen billion years…

Further, as O’Murchu suggests, the earliest conscious humans expressed in artwork and ritual an awareness of a power in the universe that held them in love and light in all earth’s ages before the coming of Christ…

So what place can the four weeks of Advent have in this new Universe Story?  The allurement of the Universe as the expression, the visible Presence of Love in our lives, was/is so powerful that I gladly relinquished the lure of those dark weeks of Advent. Disenchantment.

And then I began to fall in love with the Winter Solstice. I discovered that this amazing yearly time (which for our ancestors only became evident in earlier dawns and later sunsets after a few days) was the reason why the early Christians chose December 25th to celebrate the Birth of Christ. Celtic scholar Dara Molloy, author of The Globalization of God told me when I visited him in Ireland that it was the Celtic Christians who also suggested June 24th, a few days after the Summer Solstice, the time of the waning of the light, for the Feast of John the Baptist. Hadn’t John said of the Christ, “He must increase and I must decrease”?

Slowly, over recent years, the beauty, passion and power of the Christ-story are being rewoven by many among us on the loom of our new knowledge of the Universe. Bruce Sanguin  has done this with clarity and poetic elegance in his article, “Evolutionary Cosmology”:

The season of Advent is an affirmation of the dark mysteries of life. In these four weeks, we enter into a deepening darkness, a fecund womb where new life stirs. Before the great Flaring Forth 13.8 billion years ago, there was only the empty dark womb of the Holy One. We have a bias against darkness, privileging the light in our tradition. But most of the universe is comprised of what scientists call dark matter….for the universe to exist in its present form, and not fly off in all directions, the gravitational pull of the dark matter is necessary. Creation needs the dark in order to gestate.

Advent is a season of contemplation and meditation in which the soul, if allowed, falls willingly back into that primordial darkness out of which new worlds are birthed….

When Mary uttered those five words, “Let it be to me”, she was assenting to the descent into the sacred mystery that angels announce in the seasons of Advent and Christmas. We are called to trust this descent into darkness, making ourselves available as the ones through whom a holy birth can happen.

To go deep into the Season of Advent is to trust that there are galaxies of love stirring within the womb of your being, supernovas of compassion ready to explode and seed this wondrous world with Christ-shaped possibilities.

Are we willing with Mary to consent to the birth of the divine coming through us? Are we willing to actually be a reconfigured presence of the originating Fireball, prepared to be centre of creative emergence – to give birth to the sacred future that is the dream of God? Are we willing both personally and in the context of our faith communities to birth the Christ?

So bring on the Christmas pageants….and when that cardboard star-on-a-stick glitters above the baby Jesus, think of it as your cosmological kin winking at you and settling over you as well, lighting you up as a sacred centre through whom the Christ waits to be born. (Bruce Sanguin)

Re-enchantment.

We wait in darkness, and we do not wait alone, as poet Jessica Powers writes:

I live my Advent in the womb of Mary

And on one night when a great star swings free

From its high mooring and walks down the sky

To be the dot above the Christus i,

I shall be born of her by blessed grace.

I wait in Mary-darkness, faith’s walled place,

With hope’s expectation of nativity.

I knew for long she carried me and fed me,

Guarded and loved me, though I could not see,

But only now, with inward jubilee,

I came upon earth’s most amazing knowledge:

Someone is hidden in this dark with me.

Artwork by Mary Southard