Church...Christians – aye, there’s the rub. Those are not very popular words these days in our culture. Unfortunately, the sins committed by the church and by those who call themselves Christians has too often dimmed the light that should be burning brightly in a dark world. Christ is all about the rule of love; there is no greater thing. Yet Christians have too often been judgmental, cruel, more interested in power than in serving others in love.
Sadly, the darkness casts shadows on all the light that has been given to the world, and cold hearts too often cancel out the warm gifts the church and Christians do offer.
I’ve been a Christian all of my life. When I was young, I had no choice. My family was devout and had deep roots in the soil of Christian beliefs and practices. “We do not choose to have roots; we accept those that we’ve grown out of,” says Gilles Cusson, SJ, and developmental psychologists agree. Our spiritual life grows out of the seeds planted in childhood. Bible Reading and prayer every day, church twice on Sundays, being generous to others, caring for those who needed it...these were teachings that became the foundation of my life.
When I was older, I needed to make a choice about my spirituality: to accept these roots, or to spread my wings and look elsewhere. I chose to accept. It’s been quite a journey over the last 70 years; the road has had its valleys and hilltops. Sometimes, the road was nothing more than a disappearing track in the darkness, and other times it was a broad highway bathed in sunshine. Sometimes I just stood by and watched others march by, singing their victory songs loudly – they looked so strong and confident, while I was full of doubts. Sometimes I took side trips, exploring other spiritual pathways – and always, those pathways led me back, enriched by what I’d learned. So yes, I call myself a Christian, a doubtful, hesitant, joyful, tearful, searching, wandering, questioning, tip-toeing, stumbling, dancing, backward-glancing, laughing follower of Jesus, who is “love with skin on”, whose birth we wait to celebrate. Advent means something to me.
Normally, on the first Sunday of Advent, which was last week Sunday, I would be in church. I would participate in the liturgy, I would watch as the first candle of the advent wreath was lit, and I would be glad that I was part of a larger family who celebrated Advent with me.
But on the first Sunday of this advent season, we were spending a weekend at a hotel in Vancouver and had plans to attend a concert later in the day. The morning was unscheduled, an unusual freedom. I turned on the cell phone and checked out my email, and found my morning meditation there, written by Richard Rohr. This is how I would begin my first Sunday in Advent.
Rohr, a Franciscan priest, believes Creation is all about God pouring out infinite love into visible form. The vast universe with its planets and stars, the earth and all things in it, is all about God’s love made visible. Christmas, too, is a pouring out of love into visible form, love incarnate, love divine. That love is everywhere around us. “What if we’ve missed the point of who Christ is, what Christ is, and where Christ is?” he wrote. What if Christ is all around us, as part of Creation?
“I believe that a Christian is simply one who has learned to see Christ everywhere,” he wrote. The words tugged at my heart. What would happen if for the rest of the day I acted like Rohr’s kind of Christian, one who chose to see Christ everywhere?
And so I did. When I walked with the resident sweetie in the sunshine along the shores of English Bay, “Christ” was everywhere – jogging, biking, strolling; Christ was a child playing in the sand. Christ was the little old lady in bright yellow sneakers pushing a walker.
Christ was a family of three, walking hand in hand; Christ was in the ducks, paddling in the water, in the crows in the trees, in the flowers still blooming, in the waves lapping up on the shore.
Later that day, at a glorious concert featuring an orchestra and four choirs (including the children’s choir our grandgirls sing in), I heard the voice of Christ – love made visible – in the harmony of the singers, in the cymbals and the piccolo, in the people leaning forward, listening in rapt attention. The whole day reminded me of a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins:
“The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil...”
There are days like that, aren’t there? But often we are too busy, too battered, too scattered and cynical to see it all around us.
Of course it’s not so difficult, on a beautiful day full of beautiful things, to imagine that Love surrounds us and permeates every part of Creation. Quite another thing when we are stuck in traffic and arguing about which road will lead to the ferry for which we are already late. (You can fill in that equivalent from your own life!) It’s not so easy to see Love when our life is painful, when the world is in disarray, when we are filled with anger or dismay, when hope feels far away. And there's a lot of that going around.
And yet...and yet...I have to believe in Love, in sparkles of divine love flaming out in the darkness, like shining from shook foil. It’s there, if we but turn our eyes just a little and look for it.
May you, too, see the Light in the darkness in this Advent season.
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