Everyone can feel joy at Christmas no matter what their spiritual path because we celebrate the birth of a human who attained the highest stage and state of human consciousness, who embodied the oneness with all creation, the universal compassion and love of neighbor that flow from a fully evolved and mature heart and mind.
He saw from his advanced consciousness that anyone could attain this maturity, that humanity could someday get there as a whole and society be characterized by oneness, compassion and love. He called it the realm of God on earth, life in harmony with the spirit of the universe, and he said we were close to getting there.
The reason everyone can feel joy during Advent is that it prepares us to have that same heart and mind. This is the advent we are seeking and now we are two thousand years closer.
That enlightened human urged us to undertake the journey, and he taught us how. .
The future of human civilization and all living beings depends on this shift to a new sustainable, just and harmonious life on earth happening as quickly as possible. We will not survive long without attaining this new consciousness.
That is why Advent and Christmas are such gifts, because if we immerse ourselves in the spiritual journey they map out it will lead to our transformation and the transformation of the world.
Below are three reflections and sonnets for the final days of Advent leading up to Christmas. I hope they help you on your journey and help you undergo the next transformation the Spirit needs you to make. I hope they increase the love and light you shine to transform the world around you.
The Buddhist philosopher Ken Wilber says that one of the things that helps us on the journey toward the most mature level of consciousness is simply knowing that it is there to be attained, and that we are created and called to strive for it. No matter what our age or situation in life, we can move toward it, and it is one of the most important things that we can do for the world.
Madeleine L’Engle, the author of Wrinkle in Time and sixty other books, wrote a profoundly wise one entitled Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art. In the passage below she talks about Mary the mother of Jesus as a model for how artists respond to their calling, but I encourage you to broaden the meaning to be about any person with any calling—including the important tasks life is asking of you now. Understand that when this passage says artist it means you, whatever your gifts may be:
“The artist is a servant who is willing to be a birthgiver. In a very real sense the artist (male or female) should be like Mary who, when the angel told her that she was to bear the Messiah, was obedient to the command….
“I believe that each work of art, whether it is a work of great genius, or something very small, comes to the artist and says, ‘Here I am. Enflesh me. Give birth to me.’ And the artist either says, ‘My soul doth magnify the Lord,’ and willingly becomes the bearer of the work, or refuses; but the obedient response is not necessarily a conscious one, and not everyone has the humble, courageous obedience of Mary….
“What would have happened to Mary (and to all the rest of us) if she had said No to the angel? She was free to do so. But she said, Yes….
“Mary did not always understand. But one does not have to understand to be obedient. Instead of understanding…there is a feeling of rightness, of knowing—knowing things which we are not yet able to understand.” (pp 18 ff)
Believe There Can Be Fulfillment
“Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” Luke 1:45
“Blessing always comes from trusting that God’s Word will be fulfilled.” Alan Culpepper in the New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary on this verse
We each are born with our own Mary womb.
We all have gifts that come down from above,
or up from deep within—our Golden Room,
our greatest height and depth, our source of love
and life and light within our spirit’s heart
where truth and beauty rise, a hidden spring
that flows with what is our own form of art,
of bearing Christ, of Mary mothering.
The question is, do we believe that Word?
Even to hear it takes some faith, some trust,
but do we trust enough once we have heard
to act upon it, feeling that we must,
believing in this blessing God has willed
of gifts to share, Christ’s love through us fulfilled?
Advent calls us to wait and watch and pray, to make a contemplative journey through the darkness in preparation for the coming light.
If we take Advent as a time of inner reflection we are likely to see some unpleasant things about ourselves that are hidden in our darkest shadows. We need to face them as part of our preparation for spiritual growth to a new level of consciousness.
Thomas Keating writes about this in his classic introduction to Centering Prayer, Open Mind, Open Heart. “Our so-called good intentions look like a pile of dirty dishrags. We perceive that we are not as generous as we had believed. This happens because the divine light is shining brighter in our hearts. Divine love, by its very nature, accuses us of our innate selfishness.”
Mary serves as a model of how we can be transformed so that love and light can transform the world through us, and it can be discouraging or even downright depressing in Advent when our inner reflections or outer challenges show us how flawed we are compared to her.
The 20th Century Catholic monk, Thomas Merton, said that the perception of Mary as an exalted object of reverence can be misleading and unhelpful. The reason she is highest, he says, is because she is lowest, having the humility and peace “without which we cannot be filled with God.”
Merton says that Mary’s greatest glory is that she “in no way resisted [God’s] love and [God’s] will… She was free from every taint of selfishness that might obscure God’s light in her being…. [She was] as pure as the glass of a very clean window that has no other function than to admit the light of the sun.” (New Seeds of Contemplation, pp 167-175)
Our calling is to be like Mary as much as we can, but Thomas Keating understood that we do not have to wallow in our flaws, nor do we have to spend years of arduous asceticism, scrubbing our fingers to the bone to purify our panes of glass. All we have to do is let go and return our focus to a simple consent to God’s loving and transforming presence within us.
If we turn our flawed hearts and minds to the light, the light will prepare us for the transformation we seek.
Preparing the Stable
For you to have your birth in this old stable
I need to free up one sufficient stall
and make it clean, as much as I am able:
freshen the bedding; scrub down every wall.
To make of it a Christly habitat
it must be humble, full of love and true,
a place as welcoming to goat or rat
as Spirit made flesh, pure of heart, born new.
But my old habits fight the change I need,
foul matted dung and straw built up for years,
flawed manger, gnawed where my addictions feed,
failed whitewash painted by my shames and fears.
Lost in despair, I look to your star’s light.
When I look back, my stall is clean and right.
Mary’s lowliness, her humility, her selflessness were what enabled her to bear the light of love into the world. Humble love and trust—if we are capable of them, we are capable of being transformed and transforming the world, but first we have to overcome our ego and culture.
The South African Dominican writer Albert Nolan wrote in Jesus Today: A Spirituality of Radical Freedom:
“There have been plenty of people in the past with inflated egos—kings, conquerors, and other dictators—but in the Western world today the cultivation of the ego is seen as the ideal for everyone. Individualism permeates almost everything we do. It is a basic assumption. It is like a cult. We worship the ego.” (p 15f)
Fortunately for us, life provides us with opportunities to grow as selfless as Mary. As Richard Rohr writes in Falling Upward, “It is in facing your conflicts, criticisms, and contradictions that you grow up. You actually need to have some problems, enemies, and faults! You will remain largely unconscious as a human being until issues come into your life that you cannot fix or control and something challenges you at your present level of development, forcing you to expand and deepen. It is in the struggle with our shadow self, with failure, or with wounding, that we break into higher levels of consciousness. I doubt whether there is any other way.”
In other words, you do not have to go anywhere else or be anyone else to have the light born in you that the world so desperately needs today. In fact, the messy, earthy truth of your life is exactly where you need to be. That’s where the angels are—wherever anyone follows their calling with humble love and trust.
In the Inner Place Outside the Inn
No room for selflessness within the inn,
but in the barn there is a golden room:
straw bedding, tawny goat and grain-filled bin
throw off the oil lamp glow to gild the gloom
and drape a halo over naked labor.
The inn feeds appetites at gaudy tables.
It judges well those wielding purse or saber
and scorns and scoffs at those who sleep in stables.
There is no room there for a messy birth,
for bringing forth God’s truth from our deep gut.
For that we need a place that smells of earth
where life flows through the cracks that inns daub shut,
where angel wings that glitter like hay dust
reward with glory humble love and trust.
copyright 2020 Thomas Cary Kinder