This blog series on Advent was sparked by a post on Facebook of an Advent music video entitled “Waiting for Jesus.” Waiting for Jesus? Waiting? When I look out into the world today and hear the cries of oppression, injustice and abuse - it occurs to me that Jesus (and more accurately The Christ Light) is waiting on us!
Advent (from the Latin word adventus, meaning "coming") is considered to be the beginning of the Church Year for most churches in the Western tradition. It begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day, which is the Sunday nearest November 30, and ends on Christmas Eve (Dec 24).
The season is for most Christians one of anticipation and hope (if one looks beyond the commercialism!), although at its beginnings the emphasis was much more on penitence, fasting and sin. For most Christians it is not just a journey to the birth of Jesus, but also a story of anticipation for his “second coming.”
As I watch the news of the latest developments in Ferguson, MO and the many marches and protests happening nationwide in response to the Grand Jury announcement on the tragic death of Michael Brown, I realized that Advent needs a New Thought.
Advent is a ritual that has little to do with the actual birth of Jesus. Rather it reinforces a faith story in those that participate and as such takes on symbolic meaning. It is in this symbolic meaning of the journey that I find real Hope that transformation can come for those who are willing to walk the story in a new way. My intention is to offer a new walk into the Christ Light that dissipates the darkness of our present day conditions.
Week 1: Hope
“Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down” - Isaiah 64:1
This is the plea of the prophet Isaiah in chapter 64, verse 1. How often have our hearts prayed for the same? How often have we longed for God to break into this broken world and set right the wrongs? How often have we wished for some Divine intervention to rescue us from a seemingly hopeless and dark time? We’ve all prayed that prayer: “Come and make it right, God. Step in and do something about this mess.”
This Cry of the hopeless, the cry of the oppressed, downtrodden, forgotten, unseen and unheard. Historically the Cry, when heard, initiates a path of restoration.
But the path of restoration, while told often in dramatic tales of spiritual heroism (Moses leading his people out of slavery), is ultimately a path that must unfold through human consciousness. In other words, it develops as we develop. “God can only do for us, what God can do through us”, and each of the heroic tales of redemption illustrate that.
This same passage in Isaiah reminds us of this;
Yet, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. - Isaiah 64:8
If we are the clay and the work of the hands of the Divine, then God’s response to the cry of the oppressed is acted out through OUR response to the cry of the oppressed. WE ARE THE RESPONSE.
Yet it is easy to see why we often don’t think we are the response and that we instead, wait, hope and long for a divine intervention.
This cry is ancient. Throughout history deep and horrific abuses of human life and dignity have been suffered by some group at the hands of the powerful and greedy. Many times over the moment has come when it is too much to bear any longer and a deep aching cry bellows out.
At this point in our journey, it is important to remember that our spiritual walk is not separate from our human development walk, they are intertwined.
As human beings, before we are born (Garden of Eden) into the world of effects (Tree of Knowledge), all of our needs are met, even before we know we have a need. Then we are born and the cry to be comforted begins and we set out on a life long journey of learning how to fulfill our needs. In the early stages our needs are met as signaled by our cry, through external means (caregivers). Overtime we learn to develop skills and resources to meeting our own needs, by answering our own call (message of Jesus - seek Kingdom within).
Collectively then, we have throughout history projected that some outside help will rescue, fix, heal, or meet our need. “Moses will lead us” “Jesus will save us” are stories of projection. Yet the objects of projection (the spiritual hero we put all our hopes on), all turn out to be teachers of reflection. In every case either implicitly or explicitly they require that “the followers” turn within to find the real power and ultimate answers.
The tragic death of Michael Brown and the ensuing abuses of the legal system touched a deep wound in America. A wound as old as our country. A wound that says people of color don’t matter. A wound perpetuated by deliberate actions of casting Native Americans aside, stealing their land, breaking promises, robbing them of their culture and denying them their dignity. Over and over a message that says “I don’t see you, I don’t hear you. You don’t matter to me.” A message repeated to women, African Americans, Asian Americans, Mexican Americans, gays, lesbians and transgendered people.
“I don’t see you, I don’t hear you, You don’t matter to me” if repeated in words and deeds to a child repeatedly and systematically would cause severe psychological damage and trauma to the child’s emotional and physical health.
This is exactly what we are dealing with in the Ferguson case, it is the latest in a series of sparks that ignite the deeper cry of a people who have systematically and repeatedly been told “I don’t see you, I don’t hear you, your life does not matter to me”
And so once again in our history, people have taken to the streets.
“Riots are the language of the unheard” - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
This cry is not for a messiah to come down from the heavens or even for a King to emerge from the streets and walk to the front of the marches. This cry is for you and me to hear and respond.
I invite us to return to Isaiah and remember that we are the clay, God is the potter and we are the works of the hands of the Divine.
Mark Nepo tells of an ancient story in which
“ a group of pilgrims searching for the holy land. They wandered for days to the bank of a very wide river. It was too deep to cross, and there was nothing to build with. One of the pilgrims prayed for guidance, and a voice appeared urging each to give up something they held dear. From this they could build a raft. For only that which they held dear would be strong enough to hold them up as they crossed into the holy land.
There was immediate conflict and suspicion. The one who heard the voice was accused of trying to steal what mattered most to everyone. Finally, four of the stranded pilgrims agreed. Each offered what seemed useless to the others: a stone, a feather, a piece of driftwood, a page from a book no one understood. Mysteriously, as they slept, the dearness they had placed in these things flowed together and they woke to find a magnificent raft.
Once on the other side, the one who gave up the feather heard another voice. It said that the holy land was right where they had landed. The four pilgrims settled on the far bank within view of the others[…]”
Excerpt From: Mark Nepo. “The Book of Awakening.”
When we lead with what we hold dear - we are acting on a spiritual maturity that no longer expects Divine Intervention from beyond - but rather understands that beyond our fears there is an internal Divine source that we can and must bring forth to get to the other side.
“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.” - Gospel of Thomas
We saw a great example of this right here in Portland during the peaceful demonstrations…
Portland Police Sgt. Bret Barnum hugging 12-year-old Devonte Hart during the Ferguson demonstration in Portland on Nov. 25, 2014.
According to Sgt. Barnum, the interaction took place at the beginning of the rally. With emotions running high as speakers were addressing the crowd, he noticed a young man with tears in his eyes holding a "Free Hugs" sign among a group of people.
Sgt. Barnum motioned him over and the two started talking about the demonstration, school, art and life. As the conversation ended, Sgt. Barnum pointed to his sign and asked, "Do I get one of those?" The moment following his question was captured in the photo above, which shows Devonte's eyes welling up with tears once again as he embraces the officer. (source Oregonian)
Even more remarkable is where this young man came from:
Devonte Hart entered the world 12 years ago with drugs pumping through his tiny newborn body. By the time he was 4 years old he had smoked, consumed alcohol, handled guns, been shot at, and suffered severe abuse and neglect.
He knew only a handful of words, including fuck and shit, and he struggled to identify with the names of food, body parts and every day objects. Devonte was a violent toddler and his health was weighed down by a heavy list of disabilities.
It was a life with little hope and a future that seemed over before it began. (source; Paper Trail)
He was another victim of the old wound “I don’t see you, I don’t hear you, your life does not matter”
That is until Jen Hart and her wife Sarah entered Devonte’s life and adopted him and his two siblings seven years ago.
“I felt more connected to this fragile little boy more than I had ever felt to anyone in my life.” She had the courage to lead with what she held dear - and inner knowing that his life mattered.
With their unconditional love, nurturing natures, patience and acceptance, Devonte defied all odds and has grown into a young charismatic man with a heart of gold.
As Advent begins we have a choice - we can continue to wait on the world to change by some outside force - or we can being leading with what we all hold most dear, the need to be seen, heard and to know that our life matters, and in doing so, change the world.