Walter Brueggemann, a Disruptive and Hopeful Voice for All Ages
by Krista Tippett, host
Walter Brueggemann is a very special voice. He is one of those figures — another being Jaroslav Pelikan — who is not a household name but is revered in his universe of knowledge and accomplishment. He’s a kind of theological rock star. His name has been synonymous with the phrase “prophetic imagination” for three decades of preachers and Christian teachers. Students in all kinds of seminaries read him, and they are captivated by the man as much as his ideas. That’s my explanation for why the live video stream of our conversation is one of On Being's most-watched online interviews.
I too was thrilled to meet this man whose writings I have admired up close; he more than fulfills the promise of those writings. Walter Brueggemann is not merely an expert. He somehow embodies this tradition of the prophets that he knows as well as anyone living. He is wise and forceful, quick to laugh, passionately challenging, and fiercely hopeful. He demonstrates as much as teaches the way the prophets of the ages are disruptive of politics and culture as usual.
He helps me understand that part of a prophet’s power is in wielding language poetically rather than stridently. Beginning with the words they choose, they transcend ideological splits that actually inhibit us from seizing the great challenges and problems of our time.
"I have a dream" is the line we all remember from Martin Luther King Jr., whom Walter Brueggemann identifies as a prophet of living memory. King wasn’t talking about “enacting a civil rights bill,” Brueggemann says, “except that he was.” He points out that the prophetic voice is not issues-based. It accomplishes the harder, more necessary work of reframing the big picture of what is at stake, so that we can take in the reality of our moment in a new way, with a new sense of what might be possible.
Prophets help us connect the dots between the world as it is and the world as it might be. Prophets tend to emerge in moments of chaos and change, and this is surely a description of our age as of the 1960s or of the era of the biblical fall of Jerusalem. Walter Brueggemann helps us reclaim some important language for being people of change and chaos: the healing necessity of “lamentations,” the difference between being bold and being strident, the hard and life-giving work of letting go of comfort for the sake of what is important. That work, he says to Christian preachers and teachers, has to happen in the pulpit as in life.
Yet, even as he challenges, Walter Brueggemann calls upon mercy, another word he recovers in all its usefulness and beauty. Indeed, he shows how the two are meaningfully fused. He reminds us that the Hebrew word (like the Arabic word) for “mercy” is derived from the word for “womb.” It is the ultimate image of knowing one’s own well-being to be bound up with the well-being of another. And it comes with an extreme amount of discomfort.
How refreshing to experience a voice that is at once deeply disruptive and beautiful and critical and hopeful without any of these qualities clashing. In Walter Brueggemann’s prophetic imagination, we experience a new way of being, of living, and of faithfulness. He reminds us too — and I find this point essential — that, alongside our pantheon of prophets across time and cultures, there are countless prophets of the everyday in communities everywhere who are not and will never be famous. So many of us long to transcend what he calls “the managed prose” around us; Walter Brueggemann shows us that while this is difficult and terrifying it is can also be exhilarating and life-giving. I’m very happy to bring Walter Brueggemann’s voice to the air in this season, at this moment in time.
Image of Walter Brueggemann courtesy of Westminster John Knox Press.
"The Christmas Waltz" by She & Him to Dance Us Into the Weekend
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Tis the season and, yes, I’m a fanboy of She & Him. How can you not love the stripped-down, melodic version of this classic Christmas song? You can’t. Enjoy!
Editor’s note: The title was changed due to a last-minute scheduling change. Unfortunately, Tuesday turned into Wednesday!
The Wrappings of Love in Enveloping Arms: An Advent Reflection
by Pádraig Ó Tuama, guest contributor
There’s an internet site called The Nicest Place on the Internet that I came across the other day. I’m not sure how I saw it — a link from a tweet, or something somebody wrote.
When you open the site, an acoustic version of “I Have Never Loved Someone” by My Brightest Diamond begins playing. While it’s playing, short videos of people hugging a camera are played. There seems to be an unending slew of people who have sent in these YouTube videos of themselves approaching the camera. That’s all it is: the song on repeat and these videos of people hugging the camera that’s filming them.
My first time meeting Protestants from the north was at a church camp in August 1987. I was eleven years old. I spent my camp asking the poor Protestants if they were Irish or English, with a curiosity I usually reserved for asking whether certain characters in Wonder Woman were goodies or baddies. At the end of the church camp, one of the Protestant women, a woman with blonde hair called Annette, said “Give me a hug.”
I didn’t know what she meant. I didn’t know what hugs were to give her one. I didn’t know that I had one to give.
Christmas Is a Time for Artistic Expression and Creativity
by Judith Dupré, guest contributor
Photo by Shandi-lee (Flickr, cc by-nc 2.0)
How many times have you heard someone say — I can’t draw, I can’t sing, I can’t dance — with the case-closed authority of Solomon? Probably dozens of times, more if you yourself happen to be an artist blessed with the painting, flamenco, or woodworking gene. But have you ever heard anyone sheepishly confess, as they backed away palms up from an evergreen tree, Oh, not me — I can’t decorate Christmas trees?
Most of us dive into holiday tree trimming with gusto. We’ve got our methods, materials, and secret techniques down pat — from anchoring the tree so it stands straight to untangling strings of lights with a finesse that Houdini would have admired. Charlie Parker could have learned something from our daring as we coax familiar ornaments into different compositions each year, sentimental riffs made anew as a crystal angel is paired with a Santa made of plastic gumdrops or a tacky beaded lobster, to name some of my family’s favorites. Could Jackson Pollock outdo any of us tinsel-lobbers as we throw sparkling handfuls with random abandon? Or perhaps you prefer the single-strand-at-a-time method, placed with the en pointe precision of a Russian ballerina. I’m working the tree metaphor here, but feel free to substitute holiday crafts, baking, decorating, caroling, or gift-wrapping.
It’s your thing!
More good news! Remember Charlie Brown’s scraggly Douglas fir? The one with three spindly branches and a single bulb that weighed it down like a lead onion? Was there anything more pathetic or endearing? Pathetic attempts are not only okay at Christmas, they’re entirely fashionable. Call it folk art. Unlike the rest of the over-achieving calendar year, trying, if not actually succeeding, is acceptable during this season. Because, really, it’s not a question of what you are doing, it’s how you are doing it. The smallest of art projects becomes luminous with awareness and love.
For centuries, until recently, art was a concrete and widespread way of expressing one’s faith. Artists and artisans conveyed their devotion to God through painting, verse, and music. With the advent of the industrial age, abetted by myriad other factors, making art became the impractical pursuit of a chosen few. This is the great, unspoken loss of contemporary life. Creativity at its most transcendent — the moment when the work of art takes on its own life, when there is no separation between maker and object, when the artist is being re-formed by the very thing he or she is making — is comparable to the pure, blissful connection achieved in prayer or meditation.
We cherish Christmas because it presents us with weeks (months!) of artistic expression that is usually kept under wraps during the rest of the year. Christmas is a time when everyone has the opportunity to create — an act of transformation that mirrors what is most sacred in each of us. The works of our hands give glory to our Creator as they reveal us at our most human and most holy. Each of us was created with the same inexhaustible delight and diversity found in nature, and we are free to create with similar abandon. Perhaps this is the true magic of the season: We don’t question whether we should, or judge whether we can, we just create! I’d venture that we’d be more fully ourselves, as human beings and as spiritual beings, if we allowed ourselves that freedom more often.
This season let your spirit shine forth in the tree you trim, the candles you light, the songs you sing, and the cookies you bake. Let every ribbon you tie tie you more closely to your loved ones and to your own beautiful creative soul. While you’re in the Christmas spirit, why not consider giving yourself the gift of creativity, surely the gift that keeps on giving, all year round.
Judith Dupré is a fellow of Yale University’s Saybrook College and the author of several books. Her latest book is Full of Grace: Encountering Mary in Faith, Art and Life, a collection of stories about everyday spirituality and the nature of personal transformation.
We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication for the On Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.
Old St. Nick is an acquired taste for some methinks. So much for the Christmas spirit.
From the National Post:
Odd Christmas photo of the day
David Warren, who has been playing Santa for the past ten years, holds the clearly freaked-out seven-month-old Olivia Ruch at Santa’s Grotto in Selfridges department store in London, Dec 7, 2011. (Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters)
~reblogged by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
An Advent of Doubt and Struggle
by Debra Dean Murphy, special contributor
Advent is my kind of season.
No, not the pseudo-Advent of most Christian piety with liturgically-correct hymns and texts on the Sundays of the season and full-on Christmas hoopla all the other days, but this one: the ancient, autumnal interval of darkness and foreboding with its achy uncertainty blanketing landscapes both inner and outer. This Advent offers room for doubt and struggle. It grants permission to rest in — rather than to resolve — the tensions and paradoxes, the sometimes maddening contradictions that shape the life of discipleship.
We read the appointed texts for the Sundays of Advent and they are startling in their bleakness, their familiarity inuring us to meanings inscrutable, ominous, perilous. (Unless we subscribe to the Left Behind school of hermeneutics, in which liturgical Advent doesn’t exist and these texts are never bad news for us).
What the season reveals in its hymns, poems, texts, and traditions is that we begin the Christian year not by embarking on a straightforward path to nativity joy but by acknowledging the gaping chasm that exists, as Rowan Williams has put it, between “our deepest and holiest longing and the reality of God.”
Prophetic oracle is a fitting literary companion for traversing such a divide. While the lectionary texts for Advent are rooted in a time and place that have everything to do with their significance for our own time and place, it’s the apocalyptic form itself that provides strange comfort to those of us with less than sunny spiritualities. We are not very sure of ourselves, theologically and otherwise. Our questions often consume us, overwhelm us. More than anything, sentimental Christianity makes us want to run away from church and never come back.
But the Advent rantings of John the Baptizer and the little apocalypse of Mark’s gospel intrigue us and are part of the reason we stay. There’s something interesting going on here, something that even an accommodated church can’t quite tame, obscure, or ignore. The God spoken of in these ancient texts is saving a people and redeeming all of creation. In this work we sense, with Flannery O’Connor, that “grace must wound before it heals.”
And we also sense that the three-fold coming (adventus) of Christ — as baby refugee, as word and sacrament, as glorious Lamb of God — is more political than personal: He comes to "shake the powers in the heavens" that justice at long last might be established, that the politics of fear and the economics of scarcity might be exposed as the fraudulent scams they are. In Jesus is abundance — life and health and joy for all. For the brooding skeptics and cynics among us, indeed for all Advent people, He is the apocalyptic thief who breaks in not to rob us but to give us the goods.
Maybe a domesticated church — even one that observes pseudo-Advent — can hear this good news with new ears.
Photo by Stuart Anthony/Flickr, cc by-nc-nd 2.0.
Debra Dean Murphy is an assistant professor of Religion and Christian Education at West Virginia Wesleyan College and serves on the board of The Ekklesia Project. She regularly blogs at Intersections: Thoughts on Religion, Culture, and Politics.
We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for publication at the On Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.
Egyptian-American Coptic Christian Woman Celebrates Christmas with Renewed Meaning: An Interview with Monica Youssef
by Susan Leem, associate producer
+ Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Every January 7th in accordance with the Julian calendar, Coptic Orthodox Christians in North America celebrate the holiday of Christmas. But this sacred time is filled with solemnity, mourning, and fear — and also a deepening resolve and hope — for many Copts one week after the New Year’s Eve bombing of a Coptic church in Alexandria, Egypt killed 21 worshippers.
Copts are the largest religious minority in Egypt, making up nine percent of the country’s population the BBC reports, and are considered by many scholars to be direct descendants of Egyptians from the time of Jesus.
But more than one-quarter of Coptic Christians live in the rest of the world. And hundreds of Coptic churches can be found in the United States, including Saint Mary’s Coptic Orthodox Church in the suburb of South Saint Paul in Minnesota. We asked Monica Youssef, a 20-year old member of this parish who is president of the University of Minnesota Coptic Orthodox Christian Association, to reflect on this year’s Orthodox Christmas celebration.
Could you share a bit about your personal experience in the Coptic Orthodox Church: Where you grew up? How you came to the faith? What is it like to be a Coptic Christian in the United States?
Both of my parents came to the U.S. from Egypt about 25 years ago. They met and got married in Pennsylvania, and then moved to St. Paul so my father could study for his Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Minnesota. My older brother John, younger sister Mary, and I were all born here in St. Paul and have lived here our whole lives.
My father and mother have always been very faithful Coptic Christians, and have raised us all in the same manner. We were baptized in the Church a few months after being born, following one of the sacraments of the Coptic Orthodox Church. This love for our faith has flourished within us to such a degree that being a Coptic Christian has now become the essence of our lives.
It’s funny though, not many people may even know that about me — except for when January 7th or a week in April comes around, where my response to all of my friends is, “Gotta go to church!” And I get questions like, “You celebrate Christmas twice? Lucky!” or “A 10-hour service? How is that even possible?” I always enjoy sharing my faith with others who have never heard of it, or even some who just want a personal viewpoint. On the other hand, it’s always so much fun to connect with other Coptic youth across the U.S. at conventions or retreats that are held throughout the year in several different states. It’s as if we are all one big family, even if we’ve never met — the almost identical lifestyles, beliefs, and values we share are one the many reasons why it is a joy to be a Copt.
Today is Christmas within the Coptic Church. Most of us know very little about your faith tradition, including that Christmas is celebrated at a different time than most Christians celebrate the holiday in the United States. Could you describe some of the rituals and festivities that you and your family celebrate at your home and at your local church?
In one way we get to celebrate Christmas twice. Having the 25th off from work and school is always a great time to get together with family and friends in the spirit of the season. But it is actually January 7th where we celebrate the true meaning of Christmas — the glorious birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ. This is because the Copts go by the Julian calendar, rather than the Gregorian calendar (which is used throughout the world today).
The festivities actually start to begin around the second week of December (or the beginning of the Coptic month Kiahk), where churches across the globe offer their hearts to God singing a selection of praises and spiritual songs which are central to the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and are so called “Kiahk Praises”.
Then on January 6th, Copts gather at church in the evening and pray the Holy Liturgy that goes up to midnight. The end of the Nativity fast, in which we abstain from dairy, meats, and poultry, is marked upon receiving the blood and body of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the sacrament of communion (occurring around midnight).
Tons of “Happy feast!” greetings are passed along to one another, as Copts leave the church and head home to partake in the first meal of meats, cheeses, eggs, and chicken — typically prepared in a traditional Egyptian manner. Soon, everyone becomes tired and then sleeps to reenergize for the next day of celebration. Church members gather again at church the next day to celebrate Christmas together; this usually is just a social hour with some food. Because Christmas is fixed to January 7th and may fall during the week, it is the following Sunday where church members hold a special Christmas program of singing, skits/plays, and a dinner after the Holy Liturgy. Kids get presents, hundreds of the same pictures are taken from several different cameras, and smiles are spread all over.
You mentioned the phrase “Happy feasts!” is offered in Arabic. Could you share the transliteration so I could share it with our readers? Oh, the transliteration in Arabic is either "Kola sana wenta tayeb!" (to a male) or "Kola sana wentee tayeba!" (to a female).
You’re attending the University of Minnesota right now, correct? Is there a Coptic community at the university that you’ve become friends with?
The Copts that I know there are my friends that I have grown up with at church, actually, so before a member of my church enters the University of Minnesota, he/she already has a few friends there. This is because there is only one Coptic Church within Minnesota, and it is located in South St. Paul. So, because all of us are centralized at one location, we all know each other fairly well.
We are a registered student group, Coptic Orthodox Christian Association, where we gather once a month and discuss a spiritual topic. We are now incorporating regular volunteer activities within the community.
What impact has the New Year’s Eve bombings in Alexandria, Egypt had on your personal Coptic community (at school or outside of school)?
In one aspect, the bombing in Alexandria is heart-wrenching. Even if we do not know those killed or injured, I know that both others and I alike feel as though our own family was hurt. The Coptic community across the globe shares a way of life similar to one another. By and large, we talk, look, and pray like one another, whether in Egypt, Australia, Europe, or the U.S. Seeing the film of the bomb impact at the end of the service was terrifying. It almost looked like the church that I have attended my whole life.
Before midnight mass at Abassiya Cathedral in Cairo, Egyptian Coptic Christians hold a banner reading, “Our church is always for martyrs, free people not afraid of death.” (photo: Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images)
This event happened just short of the first-year anniversary of six Copts killed in a shooting after the Coptic Christmas liturgy on January 7, 2010 in a city of Egypt called Nag Hammadi. Our Church aches because of the innocent suffering of our brothers and sisters in Egypt, and it is happening at a time where we should be celebrating the incarnation of Our Lord Jesus Christ. However, in no way do we lose heart or faith. Such an event has strengthened our prayers as we lift our hearts to God asking for His mercy and for peace in the world. We learn from these martyrs that our lives are with God, and that at any moment we too may be face to face with death.
For me, personally, this devastation has strengthened my faith, and I trust that He will deliver His people and justice will be served according to His will — whether on Earth or in heaven:
“I will love You, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; My God, my strength, in whom I will trust; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised; So shall I be saved from my enemies.” (Ps. 18:3)
My God is compassionate, merciful, and loving God, and I know that He hears the cries of His children. Our faith and our trust can only be confirmed in Our Lord.
“The Lord also will be a refuge for the oppressed, A refuge in times of trouble. And those who know Your name will put their trust in You; For You, Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You. Sing praises to the Lord, who dwells in Zion! Declare His deeds among the people. When He avenges blood, He remembers them; He does not forget the cry of the humble.” (Ps. 9:9-12)
We know that there is a problem, but now is the time for us to come together as one soul, and one body, and offer our hearts to God. He is the only one, in a time like this, who can intercede on our behalves, help us, protect and save us, and avenge our troubles.
“Vengeance is Mine, and recompense; Their foot shall slip in due time; For the day of their calamity is at hand, And the things to come hasten upon them.” (Deut. 32:35)
Both Copts and Muslims in Egypt took to the streets in protest this month. Have you always been aware of that tension or is this the first time you’ve seen it in such a public display?
Similar protests occurred throughout the U.S. and Canada after the shooting in Nag Hammadi last year. It is right for us to voice that such treatment in Egypt is wrong, but I do not agree with this manner. It is true, this tragedy has devastated each and every one of us, but as a priest in Egypt has recently said in light of these attacks, “If you want to state your opinion, state it, but in a calm and peaceful manner. God has taught us to fight Satan, to fight evil, with prayer. We pray to God in our churches, not in the streets.”
Can you describe how you felt watching the funeral procession on Egyptian television?
I couldn’t hold my tears. I saw casket by casket by casket lined up before clergy, who were praying on them. A sight like that is mortifying but truly causes each Copt to pray harder. Those killed are our brothers and sisters. We must remember that although their lives on Earth may be over, Heaven is rejoicing for the arrival of 21 martyrs. This is our faith: our lives on Earth are a mere glimpse compared to our eternal lives. It is a reminder that we must work towards obtaining that eternal life with Our Father.
What particular ritual, song, icon, or a moment during Christmas services or a distinct family tradition might resonate more deeply and intimately with you during this season?
I, personally, always get so caught up in the particular feast day that we may be celebrating — whether Christmas or Easter — and I sometimes overlook the meaning of the holiday, becoming so overjoyed with the holiday’s arrival itself. This year, I feel as though it’ll be the exact opposite. The aura among the Coptic Christian Church, worldwide, is still somewhat shaken. Many congregations will be walking into churches with security, police officials, or other protective measures taken that are extremely out of the ordinary. But the beauty about the Coptic Church is the strong faith of its believers.
So this Christmas, each service and each tradition will be taken wholeheartedly to such a greater depth than years past. Every word to be prayed throughout the holy liturgy will resonate within our hearts, will strengthen our prayers, and will fill us with a heavenly and glorious joy. The greetings at church will be with such warmth and love, and time spent with family will prove itself more precious and more valuable than ever before.
This Christmas, we’ll truly be connected as one family, one body, through our gracious and perfect Father. As His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and the leader of the Coptic Church has said, “We will celebrate Christ’s birth no matter the circumstances or problems we face.”
“Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)
We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.
Photos We Couldn’t Use This Christmas
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Photography is a medium that can add immeasurable depth to the character and content of an online essay or show page or blog commentary. But, so often, choosing complementary images is treated as an afterthought, a sort of window display that fails to give you a hint of what’s inside or add to the story that’s being told in text or audio. I take this aspect seriously, especially when it comes to guest contributions to this blog.
In a simple call-out on Facebook and Twitter, we asked our readers to write about Advent or Hanukkah. We received dozens of clever, moving essays (even some on winter solstice!) and poetry — so many so that I worked through my first week of vacation editing and posting them. There were too many not to publish, and putting them off until I returned would mean that the built-in deadlines of the holidays would void them completely. Oh, what a joy though!
And what a challenge to find photos worthy of their partners. I hope I did our guest contributors right. Along the way, I found many others that weren’t quite right for pairing with our submissions. I’m sharing three photos with you that I don’t want to let go unnoticed.
I couldn’t find a spot for the photo above, but Christy Quirk’s street shot from her travels in Azerbaijan is absolutely wonderful. The scene is a bit depressing, and the Santa is a skinnier version of Dan Akroyd in Trading Places. (I’m just waiting for him to pull out a piece of salmon…) The photographer’s caption says it all:
"Christmas in a Muslim, post-Soviet country is a bit schizophrenic. Christmas isn’t celebrated as it is the West, but many of the icons are visible. Azeris like a secular New Year’s, but they also sometimes celebrate the Russian Christmas on January 6th. Nevertheless, this Santa looks a little worse for the wear."
photo: Jon Ardern/Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons
And a Lancastrian photographer took this intriguing shot of a roadside vendor selling Santa masks and hats that read “Merry Christmas” — in Goa, India.
As interesting as these two Santa photos may be, it is the following family photo that I regret not using most:
photo: Micah Taylor/Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons
Any family who has sat for a photo knows that the outtakes are often most memorable, and amusing. This one is scintillating and rich with texture, something the viewer can layer with meaning depending on the context. The photographer adds some flavor with his own caption: “For many obvious reasons, this did not make the cut for the family Christmas card, but it made the cut into my heart.”
Mine too, Micah. Mine too.
A Well-Rehearsed Ritual
by Anna Lawrence Pietroni, guest contributor
A Christmas tree stands a month after Christmas last year. Ashley, who had recently overcame thyroid cancer, kisses her son Trey, who was undergoing treatment for tuberculosis.
(photo: Fred Erlenbusch/Flickr)
Advent Tea was invented by my mother 40 years ago. My brothers were young and knocking over furniture in their pre-Christmas fervor. Mom needed to find some way of marshaling their excitement, so she built a little ritual around the lighting of a candle on a Sunday — something to pull them back to here and now and to take their eyes off December 25th. She took a few simple ingredients: cream crackers (frugal, brittle squares of air and flour), a jar of home-pickled onions, and a slab of cheddar cheese. She lit a candle, and that was it: Advent Tea.
Now my young sons are knocking over furniture, and I welcome Advent Tea as a slower, settled time on Sunday afternoons. My boys’ religious education is a little patchy. When I asked them what Advent meant, they told me “it means crackers.” But Advent Tea does what all good rituals do: it’s a simple, repeated practice that has worn grooves into our years; it brings the weight and depth of shared experience to the moment.
Last December we were far from home, living in Boston, Massachusetts. Back in England, my parents were nursing my grandfather through the final stages of cancer. Advent was about a different kind of anticipation: not of birth, but of death. We knew Grandad did not have long to live. My parents were fully occupied with making his last weeks as comfortable as they could, and yet my dad found time to buy the makings of Advent Tea and ship them in a shoebox to the States. I felt the separation keenly — daily Skype calls are no substitute for being in the room. But Advent Tea connected me with them; I ate what they ate, we all lit a candle, and this invoked a little of their presence.
I’m back home now and don’t need the shared practice to draw my loved ones close. This year, the ritual of Advent Tea is serving us in an unexpected way. We face our first Christmas not only without Grandad, but without my father too. He was vital, active, in his mid-sixties and struck down this summer by a stealthy, aggressive cancer that shocked everyone with the speed of its progression. I got home five days before he died. Our family is depleted: we’ve lost two tender, generous men who blessed the lives of everyone they knew. It’s all too easy to dread Christmas, to seek out all the gaps and silences their absence has created and fill them up with weeping. I find myself angry when explaining Advent to my children; that it’s more than cheese and crackers. I discover that the ecclesiastical construct both baffles and irritates me: the baby’s already been born. Not only that, he’s lived; he’s died; we’ve had the Resurrection. We know the story. So why all this faked ‘waiting’?’ And don’t get me started on the Second Coming.
My rant leads me to look for definitions. (What does it mean, anyway?) Advent, meaning “coming,” leads me to parousia, the Greek word used in the New Testament in connection with the Second Coming. It means “presence.”
And this is what the ritual of Advent Tea fosters: a gentle coaxing to be fully present, to cultivate what John O’Donohue calls “soul texture.” It’s a well-rehearsed ritual, so we don’t need to think about what to set out on the table. The meal is simple. There is no cooking, no performance. We laugh. We eat. We light a candle. My sons fight about who gets to blow it out. As with my brothers, 40 years ago, Advent Tea helps us all to sit still. This year, more than ever, it coaxes me to be right here right now, with all the sadness and the gratitude and joy.
We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.