Monday, December 21, 2020

Advent 2020: O Radiant Dawn

O radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal night, sun of justice: Come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

Pre-Christian people who lived far north and who suffered the archetypal loss of life and light with the disappearance of the sun had a way of wooing back life and hope.  Primitives [sic] do not separate the natural phenomena from their religious or mystical yearning, so nature and mystery remain combined.  As the days grew shorter and colder and the sun threatened to abandon the earth, these ancient people suffered the sort of guilt and separation anxiety which we also know.  Their solution was to bring all ordinary action and daily routine to a halt.  They gave into the nature of winter, came away from their fields and put away their tools.  They removed the wheels from their carts and wagons, festooned them with greens and lights, and brought them indoors to hang in their halls.  They brought their wheels indoors as a sign of a different time, a time to stop and turn inward.  They engaged the feelings of cold and fear and loss.  Slowly, slowly they wooed the sun-god back.  And light followed darkness.  Morning came earlier.  The festivals announced the return of hope after primal darkness.

This kind of success--hauling the very sun back; the recovery of hope--can only be accomplished when we have had the courage to stop and wait and engage fully in the winder of our dark longing.  Perhaps the symbolic energy of those wheels made sacred has escaped us and we wish to relegate our Advent wreaths to the realm of quaint custom or pretty decoration.  Symbolism, however, has the power to put us directly in touch with a force or an idea by means of an image or an object--a "thing" can do that for us.  The symbolic action bridges the gulf between knowing and believing.  It integrates mind and heart.  As we go about the process of clipping our greens and winding them on a hoop, we use our hands, we smell the pungent smell that fills the room, we think about our action.  Our imagination is stirred.

Imagine what would happen if we were to understand that ancient prescription for this season literally and remove--just one--say just the right front tire from our automobiles and use this for our Advent wreath.  Indeed, things would stop.  Our daily routines would come to a halt and we would have the leasure to incubate.  We could attend to our precarious pregnancy and look after ourselves.  Having to stay put, we would lose the opportunity to escape or deny our feelings or becomings because our cars could not bring us away to the circus in town.

--Gerard Mueller Nelson

(As I typed those words, I disagreed with some.  "Primitives" was the first example.  The separation, even the conflict, of "knowing" and "believing," of heart v. mind.  But when was the last time we clipped greens and wrapped them 'round a hoop?  Reading these words is one thing; typing them out is the action that, for me, integrates heart and mind.  I think about my action.  My imagination, which is my heart working with my mind, is stirred.  There is some I disagree with here.  There is something to be learned, however.  Not quite ready to remove a car tire; but maybe in my imagination, at least, I could do it.  Sure, we all feel our car tires have been removed for us by the year, the year of the pandemic.  But what are we longing to return to?  Family and friends?  Or comfortable routines that substituted for meaning in our lives?  We've had to slow down, to stop, to change our routines.  What have we done with that time?  How have we used it?  How could we have used it, better than we did?  Advent is a time for contemplating that; especially this Advent, this year.)

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