Advent is designed to be a path of inner and cultural transformation through darkness into light. Other spiritual traditions have parallel paths.
Finding and taking a path like Advent to inner transformation is urgent for us each because cultural transformation is now urgent for us all.
I quote Gus Speth over and over because our one hope for survival as a nation and species is that we place his wisdom at the top of our individual life goals and daily priorities:
“Many of our deepest thinkers and many of those most familiar with the scale of the challenges we face have concluded that the transitions required can be achieved only in the context of what I will call the rise of a new consciousness.” (from his book, The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability)
This post is a continuation of my poems and reflections on Advent. Advent’s path progresses along a series of themes. The first Sunday is hope, and the second peace. They are followed by joy and love and finally the light of transformed spiritual consciousness represented by Christ: humanity fully evolved and matured.
Jesus looked at a society that was in many ways like ours and said, “If only you had recognized the things that make for peace!” (Luke 19:42)
The Hebrew word shalom means peace in the fullest sense of harmony, wholeness and wellbeing—both peace and the conditions that make for peace. True shalom requires a mature, transformed heart and mind capable of recognizing the oneness of all people and all the earth and therefore acting with compassion and justice for all.
Advent calls us to shalom and adds to it the wisdom of Taoism:
No peace in the world without peace in the nation;
No peace in the nation without peace in the town;
No peace in the town without peace in the home;
No peace in the home without peace in the heart.
The Eastern Orthodox saint, Seraphim of Sarov, put the same principle this way: “Have peace in yourself and thousands will find salvation around you.”
How can we find the peace and things that make for peace that we urgently need? Below are three sonnets that reflect on this question.
Somebody has to love the candlelight.
Somebody has to show the poor some care.
Somebody has to keep the star in sight.
Somebody has to hope, expect, prepare.
It might as well be you, if you are willing.
Some expectations must be sacrificed—
the Advent task is emptying, then filling,
like Mary’s “Let it be” to bearing Christ.
Somebody has to do it or the earth
may wake from Herod’s fearful greed too late.
It might as well be you to give Christ birth
by giving time to pray and watch and wait.
Come, nurse your flame. Let love and light increase.
It might as well be you to bring earth peace.
The Advent calling to peace comes to us differently as our lives and the world around us change, yet one calling is constant, and that is to cultivate peace in the heart.
True peace in the heart depends on our ability to master the Advent skill that Jesus taught—the radical acceptance to be awake and watchful of what is, and at the same time let it be, and wait, and pray.
Bill McKibben publishes a superb climate newsletter as part of the online offerings of The New Yorker. He interviewed Lynne Quarmby in the December 2, 2020 edition. Quarmby is a professor of molecular biology at Simon Fraser University, in British Columbia. She has seen how environmental degradation is destroying the most basic building blocks of life on earth.
Here is an excerpt from the interview where she talks about her struggle for peace and the things that make for peace:
McKibben: “And how do you keep from unproductive despair?”
Quarmby: “I have direct experience with unproductive despair. After several years of climate activism driven by fear, panic, and anger…I was exhausted…. Finally, I recognized that I was suffering from a failure to grieve—a failure to acknowledge that, for many things I love, it is too late. By slowly opening myself to grief, I began to find some peace. The question became: How to live in this world with this knowledge? …. I sit with the grief, vigorously defend the truth, and engage in politics. It’s a good life.”
Advent calls us into the darkness as a path of transformation to light. It requires being present to what lurks in our inner shadows, including our grief and also our complicity in the world’s evils, as my beloved colleagues and neighbors at Metanoia of Vermont point out.
Another part of Advent is to look deeply and fearlessly into both the inner shadows and the outer night until our eyes adjust to see the beauty of the light that shines in the darkness that the darkness cannot overcome.
Give yourself the gift of 20 minutes watching the film Deep Field that shares some of the most stunning images from space. Approach it as a meditative Advent exercise, looking at the darkness within as deeply as Hubble looks into the universe. The following sonnet continues from there.
Second Sunday of Advent Sonnet
A shepherd runs his fingers through the fleece
of his pet orphan lamb. The midnight flock
is huddled down around him now, at peace.
At last he quiets his mind’s sheepdog talk,
its fretful ruminations of the day.
He joins his will to stillness, welcomes night.
The Dipper ladles from the Milky Way
great helpings that fill up his soul with light.
He lies back on soft sod of struggle’s rest.
Sleep’s angels whisper of a coming birth,
a dream whose meaning he has not yet guessed,
but he joins those who trust the circling earth
to carry them and give them stars that lead
to just the love and peace God knows they need.
My brother George Kinder is a Buddhist teacher and a good Advent guide. His books show the wisdom and understanding that come from letting thoughts go and feelings be in meditation and mindfulness. We find a place of inner peace in the midst of pain or turmoil.
It takes trust and practice to follow a contemplative Advent path. It takes overcoming social pressures and expectations in order to give time to the practice.
The benefits are worth it—increasing our hope, peace, joy, love and light; freeing ourselves to live with integrity and savor the beauty and goodness of this earth as we work to nurture and protect it; transforming ourselves and transforming the world to a place of greater compassion and justice.
Choose whatever practice of mindfulness or heartfulness, meditation or Centering Prayer suits you, and trust that the benefits will include a peace that you will give to the world even when you do not feel it entirely yourself—the light that shines in the darkness, given birth through you. Practice:
When Christmas comes and all my work is done
I don’t want mere relief to be my feeling,
as if, exhausted, Mary birthed her son
and didn’t care why shepherds came there kneeling
and wished the angel noise would go away
and wasn’t even moved when wet, warm lips
first sucked her nipple—Mary, sprawled on hay,
not squeezing back his little finger grips.
I’d like to feel that Christmas has some meaning
other than putting down my pregnant load,
but here it is mid-Advent and I’m leaning,
head bent, unseeing, on the ass she rode.
To know Christ’s dawning light, eyes open wide,
I need to practice all night while I ride.
copyright 2020 Thomas Cary Kinder