This is more appropriate to 12 days ago, but I find it coming up every Advent now; for me, at least.
And this is what brings it to mind today:
“I mean, whether it’s a result of our action or other action, you know, discovering 20 bodies, throats slit, 20 bodies, you know, beheaded, 20 bodies here, 20 bodies there,” Col. Thomas Cariker, a commander in Anbar Province at the time, said to investigators as he described the chaos of Iraq. At times, he said, deaths were caused by “grenade attacks on a checkpoint and, you know, collateral with civilians.”Those who advocate war are often accused of not wanting to go to war themselves, because of the personal dangers war poses to the warriors. What is seldom considered is the psychic cost imposed on soldiers by war. It isn't like even the most graphic war movies. There isn't a "good" war, or a war where bodies are not dismembered and piled up, and the sight of death becomes a commonplace; and that atmosphere affects people in ways profound and shallow. No, we never consider the cost of violence to those who we order to inflict it. There is always a cost to violence, and those who advocate it, are seldom the ones who suffer directly from it.
As for the rest, it is from earlier years:
In the world, Advent means precious little; frantic for Christmas to come and go, the world is in a hurry. To the liturgical church, though, Christmas doesn't begin until December 24th, and it doesn't end until January 6th, on Epiphany. And before it ends, it will include two days of death: the Massacre of the Innocents, and the first Christian Martyr, St. Stephen. I mention that because Advent is actually akin to Lent, not to "December" on the American calendar. It is a time of preparation for shattering change, not for celebration of consumer excess.
This highlights a distinction I think needs to be made, between Christianity, and Christendom. It's an old distinction, but, like the Massacre of the Innocents and the death of Stephen right after Christmas, little acknowledged or its importance understood.
As I type this, I'm listening to a Christmas mix of my own devising, and Joni Mitchell is singing "River." That's the tone I'm going for, if it helps.
This is from Memory of Fire: Volume III, Century of the Wind, by Eduardo Galeano, tr. Cedric Balfrage, Pantheon, 1988.
"ARCHBISHOP Romero offers her a chair. Marianela prefers to talk standing up. She always comes for others, but this time Marianela comes for herself. Marianela Garda Vilas, attorney for the tortured and disappeared of EI Sal-vador, does not come this time to ask the archbishop's solidarity with one of the victims of D' Aubuisson, Captain Torch, who burns your body with a blowtorch, or of some other military horror specialist. Marianela doesn't come to ask help for anyone else's investigation or denunciation. This time she has something personal to say to him. As mildly as she can, she tells him that the police have kid-napped her, bound, beat, humiliated, stripped her-and that they raped her. She tells it without tears or agitation, with her usual calm, but Archbishop Romero has never before heard in Marianela's voice these vibrations of hatred, echoes of disgust, calls for vengeance. When Marianela finishes, the archbishop, astounded, falls silent too.
"After a long silence, he begins to tell her that the church does not hate or have enemies, that every infamy and every action against God forms part of a divine order, that criminals are also our brothers and must be prayed for, that one must forgive one's persecutors, one must accept pain, one must. . . Suddenly, Archbishop Romero stops.
"He lowers his glance, buries his head in his hands. He shakes his head, denying it all, and says: 'No, I don't want to know.'
" 'I don't want to know,' he says, and his voice cracks.
"Archbishop Romero, who always gives advice and comfort, is weeping like a child without mother or home. Archbishop Romero, who always gives assurances, the tranquilizing assurance of a neutral God who knows all and embraces all-Archbishop Romero doubts.
"Romero weeps and doubts and Marianela strokes his head."
This is the First week of Advent. In Christianity, we are told to watch. We are watching for the apocalypse. We are waiting in faith, faith not so much in certainty as "acting-as-if in great hope." Hope is supposed to be what we desire; Advent reminds us hope is also for what we need, whether we really want it, or not.