Monday, December 24, 2007

Thomas Merton on Christmas

May this be a time of increasing wonder at the miracle of God coming into our world in Jesus of Nazareth! (The picture of the left is of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, Israel - I was fortunate to visit this place of wonder several years back with my wife).

Merton's short reflection on the meaning of Christmas is a worthwhile read during this time of celebration. A short extract:

"Advent for us means acceptance of this totally new beginning. It means a readiness to have eternity and time meet not only in Christ, but in us, in Man, in our life, in our world, in our time. The beginning, therefore, is the end. We must accept the end, before we can begin. Or rather, to be more faithful to the complexity of life, we must accept the end in the beginning both together.

The secret of the Advent mystery is then the awareness that I begin where I end because Christ begins where I end. In more familiar terms: I live to Christ when I die to myself. I begin to live to Christ when I come to the "end" or to the "limit" of what divides me from my fellow man: what I am willing to step beyond this end, cross the frontier, become a stranger, enter into a wilderness which is not "myself," where I do not breathe the air or hear the familiar, comforting racket of my own city, where I am alone and defenseless in the desert of God.

The victory of Christ is by no means the victory of my city over "their" city. The exaltation of Christ is not the defeat and death of others in order that "my side" may be vindicated, that I may be proved "right." I must pass over, make the transition (pascha) from my end to my beginning, from my old life which has ended and which is now death to my new life which never was before and which now exists in Christ."

Thomas Merton. "Advent: Hope or Delusion?" in Seasons of Celebration. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1965: 96-97.

Have a wonderful Christ-filled Christmas!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Wisdom of Tenderness

A good friend of mine, from the UK, sent me the following recording of an interview with Jean Vanier:

I discovered Vanier through the writings of Henri Nouwen. Vanier's radical commmitment to active love as the primary expression of Christianity has had a providential impact on my own developing thoughts on authentic Christian Leadership. I am more than ever convinced that the call to follow Jesus is a call to let go of our desperate desires for prominence, privilege, prestige and self-enrichment. To follow Jesus is to commit to a radical divestment of every claim of self-interest so as to be free to love. Most of my current thinking revolves around the consequences of this commitment to mimetic love. Can I let go of everything on order to love? As Vanier says:

Yes, I come back to the reality of pleasure and to the reality of what is my deepest desire and what is your deepest desire. And what — and somewhere, the deepest desire for us all is to be appreciated, to be loved, to be seen as somebody of value. But not just seen — and Aristotle makes a difference between being admired and being loved. When you admire people, you put them on pedestals. When you love people, you want to be together. So really, the first meeting I had with people with disabilities, what touched me was their cry for relationship. Some of them had been in a psychiatric hospital. Others — all of them had lived pain and the pain of rejection. One of the words of Jesus to the, to Peter —and you find this at the end of the gospel of Saint John — "Do you love me?"

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

JMT on Advent

Please accept my apologies for not blogging regularly this month. I have been neck-deep in writing and submission deadlines. I expect to get back to sharing my current thought sometime next week. In the meantime I will let John Michael Talbot' s recent Advent reflection speak for me:

Peace and Good in Christ!

We come to the beginning of another Advent. We have done it many times before, and will probably do so again. Only God knows the future. And we come to the beginning of another liturgical Church year. We come again to a time of penance and conversion; "Lent with a little sugar on top," as I have often said. There is not necessarily anything new to be said. Most of what we would say has been said before by many others. But "repetition is the mother of learning."

What strikes me with this is our notion of moving through time. In the west we usually think of time as having a beginning and an end. It can be seen as a line that starts in one place, and goes to another. In the east people think of time as a circle without beginning or end. There are strengths and weaknesses with both. The weakness of linear time is that it gets so goal oriented that it can fail to live in the present moment. The problem with cyclic time is that it can lull us into a state of sluggishness.

Pope Benedict XVI has put these two concepts together in a kind of "corkscrew" approach to time. It is both cyclic in that it goes round and round, and linear in that it begins and ends someplace. I really like this description. It is typically brilliant and insightful of Pope Benedict XVI.

For many years I have proposed a similar model; that of a spiral staircase that goes up or down when viewed from the side, but seems to go round and round in the same space when viewed from below or above. This model emphasizes that ordinary life tends to go round and round with the same mundane issues over and over again. What makes our progress good or bad is which direction we are going. St. Peter Damien of the 11th century semi eremitical reform of western monasticism, and a leading cardinal of the Church of his day, says that you either go up or down every day of your life. If you try to stand still you begin a downward spiral.

Life is a decision. Love is a decision. The question is what we will do as the same issues of life come around again and again. Will we choose to follow Jesus this Advent, and continue our journey upward to heaven? Or will we just stop trying and begin a slow downward spiral?

Chances are we elder members of the Church will not hear much new this Advent. Chances are that we have heard it all pretty much before. But the challenge of what we do with the message of Jesus for us this Advent remains a matter of life or death for us all. We can choose to follow Jesus, or we can just give up, or block it all out once more.

This Advent, rise to the challenge. Though the issues might seem to get old, the challenge never gets old. It is always new because every day of our life is new. Let's convert, let's do penance, let's rise and walk up the spiral staircase with the help of the grace of God. Let's not get lulled into to a sense of the all too familiar and try to stand still. It only leads to falling back down the stairs. It leads to sin, sadness, and spiritual death. Jesus wants us to have life and have it abundantly. This Advent let's choose life, and live. God grant you a most blessed Advent this year!

In Jesus,

John Michael Talbot