The endless beginnings: “the ways deep and the weather sharp… (“Journey of the Magi”), or, for me for the last three years: the way flat (because I dwell in Florida), and the weather soggy (because it is the sub-tropics). It is still a hard journey. There, now and then, comes a chill, a deep cold, a wind, a soul-scouring inner storm and turmoil. In Advent, we pray for sun and calm and we hope….
I was glad when they said to me: ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’ So, accordng to Psalm 121, did the pilgrims of old chant as they approached the holy city of Jerusalem.
Those journeys, to Bethlehem, to Jerusalem, were always hard.
I’ve just had another birthday. I’ve gone far in this journey. I’ve been lazy, strayed from the path, only to find the way harder than it most certainly would have been had I stayed the course, stuck to the pilgrim path. The Way……
On 12/1/14 at 10:09 p.m.. I wrote of a “crisis of will.” On 12/13, hour unknown, probably night, I d bright-yellow highlighted in a book the need to be “attentive to our personal prayers.” In 2013, hour unknown, I’d noted the danger of ” the dwindling and cooling of our desire for sanctity.”
Saintliness? Must I? Me? Get real!
Yeah. And that’s the point: Reality. Life on life’s terms and God’s terms…
The reality of our situation in this vale of tears, this valley of darkness. (“You better watch out. You better not cry, you better not pout, I’m telling you why…..”)
Love saves us. Love and mercy. Advent. He is coming….
Year after year, season after season, I fail to vault over big, abiding obstacles in my life. I thought it would be last year. Last year, I thought it would be the year before. And so on and on, that mountain an infinite regression in my rearview mirror….and the years have passed….
In this season, since childhood, into adulthood, the culture’s inflatable images of Santa, Old Saint Nick, are, of course, a kind of a subliminal stand-in for the true Deliverer, That babe of humble estate. For millions, both the babe in the manger and the Big Fellow in the Red Suit coming down the chimney are myths of equal incredulity. In England, and probably here, non-Christians now greatly outnumber believers. Don’t we know it. The evidence of our faithlessness is all around us. Well hidden is that One encountered in prayer and crisis, forever King, forever merciful, but expecting much of us, Our Father, full of love and mercy., so we are told, so we must believe, and begin to believe when we consider all the bitter, empty other possibilities.
Now, to my ears and written down before my eyes, all the above reads and sounds like vapid, prayerbook pretend-piety. Small wonder no one is listening. At my church, much as I love much that I see and hear and all whom I meet there, I cringe when we sing the “modern” Gloria. It’s in 3/4 time, like a waltz, and accompanied by the pipe organ in up-and-down herdy-gerdy carnival style. The herdy-gloria Gloria. (Don’t mean to be such a critic, but, in my experience, the deepest piety is inspired by solemn, polyphonic, decidedly serious but no less joyous and ancient chords, either sung or merely heard. But — I must be humble, charitable and open. That just my preference. In a way, it might be best to encounter God in silence. It’s all about grace….and a soul-healthy ‘fear of the Lord…’
Fear of the Lord. Advent. You better watch out….
And love, of course. God is love. So we are told and so I believe. For many years, as a late teenager, I doubted it all. Then I was told that a thousand difficulties do not constitute one single doubt. (accoding to St. John Henry Newman). We have only to keep chipping away at the difficulties, as we might at a rock or any other obstacle in our path. I know I made this point to my late sister, who always seemed to insist she could not delve far into the faith, “because I question” I think she feared her probing would somehow confirm her doubts, that there was no possibility it might, instead, affirm or give birth to her faith. I told her much of St. Augustine’s Confessions was written in the form of questions. She never seemed to be convinced — not in this life. Now, unlike me, she knows the answer to every question. Her earthly birthday was at the outset of Advent: December 1. I pray for her and, throughout November, prayed for all the faithful departed.
But back to that prayerbook of mine….
I would read, paragraphs later in that prayer book, “for he is to come, he will not delay” among the Advent Antaphons. In 2012, I read that the growth of our Christian life is obstructed and hindered by the rocky obstacles that are “the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life” I John 2:16.
Believe. Look at us, helpless, pitiable… Waiting. For centuries, waiting.
What I recall, year to year, is everydayness, things unchanged in all those centuries. I just took out the garbage again. I stay mired in…Situations. In sin. In cowardice and damnable life habits of thought and action. In garbage.
On a bookmark dated Christmas, 1987, from friend and mentor, Rev. J.L. Donovan wrote: “St. Paul tells the Ephesians 2:14 “He” is our peace. He reconciles our unconsious and conscious. He speaks to us from within ourselves. I hope this book becomes a “vade mecum” of your own quest for Peace.”
The book for which this was the bookmark was a collection of the poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, ( a 19th Century Jesuit whose works are celebrated by poets of every era since, be they secular or religious). In Hopkins’s poems we find examples of the depth-charging syntax he used over and over to write, for instance, of “God’s Grandeur”, “It will flame out, like shining from shook foil/ It gathers to greatness, like the ooze of oil. Crushed.”
G.M. Hopkins died in 1899 and is buried in Dublin. J.L. Donovan died in 2019 and is buried in the hill above the grave of parents, sister and brother-in-law in Boston. Both the poet and the priest told us we will live forever. It is what Christ told us.
But for now — we are’ ‘on a darkling plain where ignorant armies clash by night.” Old Matthew Arnold amid his prolong doubt and despair could not fathom the isolated piety of the monks sequestered far up in the Alps at the Carthusian monastery of the Grand Chartrreuse (yes, where the monks make the yellow liqueur). Arnold went on wandering between two worlds, the one dead/The other powerless to be born. The year was 1855.
We’ve gone on wandering between those two worlds, through two World Wars, living in fear of a Third.
Advent. When Frosty and Santa appear on lawns, sometimes in illuminated plastic, hard or inflatable; sometimes (especially or Frosty) in great white balls of Styrofoam.
Joy. Sin all around. We are children forever; forever williing to be awed by the delightfully kitchy. And that’s good.
About this time last year, a young girl cut me off in traffic and responded to my gentle toot with an obscene gesture which she kept displaying for about a block. She’s a year older now. I wonder if any wiser. Am I? Do such things still bother me? Do I do such things myself?
It was Advent. I wanted to break her finger. I silently wished her a Merry Christmas she could not hear.
All civilizaton, all history is Advent. He Is Coming, sometime. Coming always.
Sin and evil abide, like traffic. Like surly, obscene, embittered teenagers.
Abides in me. Am I wrong that some of the worst crimes I remember were committed in Advent? Again, all time is Advent. The Evil One is always busy, and busiest in holy seasons. So my mentors Hopkins and Donovan would remind me.
He is coming….
Enough. Pray like crazy. Get ready. Again. Change. Above all change. Pray I change. I’ve already had one sinful argument this morning.
Yes, I’m talking to myself. I was talking to myself as I took out the garbage — again.
But it’s Advent again.
I go on talking to myself, but I must make that talk into prayer.
Pray. Pray….without ceasing. Persevere to the end.
It’s Advent again.