"But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in clouds' with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake--for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake." -Mark 13:24-37
Love is most nearly itself When here and now cease to matter. Old men ought to be explorers Here or there does not matter We must be still and still moving Into another intensity For a further union, a deeper communion Through the dark cold and the empty desolation, The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.
- the very last lines of T.S.Eliot's East Coker
Rudolf Otto describes the encounter with Divine Reality as evoking both repulsion and attraction (mysterium tremendum and mysterium fascinans). This Sunday the Church pours both dread and longing into the soul in order to draw her members "into another intensity, a further union, a deeper communion" with Reality.
Longing for God is a universal experience, even if (in Christian imagery) it means accepting the threatening circumstance of the Son of Man coming on clouds at the end of time. But that longing may also be as tender as Mirabai's waiting in a sopping wet skirt in a downpour. (Meditation One)
Newman describes the watch as an always ready wakefulness, detached from present, an awareness of living into that which is unseen between past and future. That is, the Advent watch is a way of life. (Meditation Two)
Finally, what if you knew you had only one month to live? (Meditation Three)
May Advent open new Realities to you, Suzanne
Meditation One (Introit) When Are You Coming?
Out in a downpour Out in a downpour in a sopping wet skirt. And you have gone to a distant country. Unbearable heart, letter after letter just asking when, my lord, when are you coming? -Mirabai c.1498-c.1565 trans. Andrew Schelling
Detail, The Last Judgement, Giotto, 1306
...and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. -Mark 13:25
My Lord, what a morning / My Lord what a morning / My Lord, what a morning / When the stars begin to fall
You’ll hear the trumpet sound / To wake the nations underground / Looking to my God’s right hand / When the stars begin to fall
You’ll hear the sinner moan / To wake the nations underground / Looking to my God’s right hand / When the stars begin to fall
You’ll hear the Christian shout / To wake the nations underground / Looking to my God’s right hand / When the stars begin to fall
Angel opening world to reveal the New Jerusalem, detail of The Last Judgement, Giotto, 1306
Meditation Two (Insight) Watching For Christ
They watch for Christ who are sensitive, eager, apprehensive in mind, who are awake, alive, quick-sighted, zealous in honoring him, who look for him in all that happens, and who would not be surprised, who would not be over-agitated or overwhelmed, it they found that he was coming at once....
This then is to watch: to be detached from what is present, and to live in what is unseen; to live in the thought of Christ as he came once, and as he will come again; to desire his second coming, from our affectionate and grateful remembrance of his first.
-John Henry Newman 1801-1890 Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. 4 quoted from An Advent Sourcebook, Liturgy Training Publications
Meditation Three (Integration) If You Knew...
What if you knew you had only one month left in your life? Would you finish up important matters at work? Would you travel to a place you always wanted to go? Would you pray more, go to church more, do that generous act you always wanted to do for others? Would you find ways to leave a mark on the world? Would you reconcile a fractured friendship?
By answering yes to one or more of these possibilities, we indicate that in our last days we would be better stewards of all the things God has given us in this life -- better than we are now. In the intensity of last days, we would live better, be better. We would be more generous, more focused on the most important things in life. The question is: Why do we need to be under threat of death to be better stewards?
Is the climate crisis making us better? Yes? No? Not yet?
The Last Word
O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence-- as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil-- to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. -Isaiah 64:1-4
Portents in the Sky
At the turn of the new year the church offers scenes of chaos: portents and signs in the heavens, broiling clouds, floods, hail, fire. The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken, And then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory. (Mark 13:24-26)
The Church gives these apocalyptic warnings as a gift, to shake away complacency, to shock into second sight, to awake to the immediacy of salvation wrapped in breathtaking clouds of doom. Watch therefore – for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning – lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Watch. (Mark 13:35-7)
The soul’s journey begins in apocalypse. Cataclysm dims the safe filters of ordinary sight to heighten the view of Reality. Shock, fear, grief, courage, and then, perhaps, curiosity, opens the door to the mystical life. Once you pass through the threshold of doom, ultimately, you'll awake to the beauty of holiness.
What a beautiful and mysterious time! Have a blessed Advent – of simplicity, of depth, of darkness waiting for light.