Next Sunday’s Gospel
for Advent I
Our Calling to Wakeful Awareness
By David Somerville+
Psychoanalyst, and pioneer in spiritual journaling, Joanna Field, came to the conclusion that “continual mindfulness must mean readiness to accept whatever comes.”
Recently some repugnant stuff has come to our world — not unlike the ugly things that the original readers of Mark 13: 24-37 saw happen. They were a mid-first century congregation in pagan Rome. Ugly events gave cause for the author of this upcoming Gospel lesson to send that young church his encouragement. Next Sunday the same encouragement will also be available to another stressed Christian community — ours. We, the contemporary church, would do well to embrace the healing effects originally intended by the author of Mark for his people. To meet the spiritual need of his congregation, he penned a memory of something Jesus said some forty years earlier, and gave it an apocalyptic tone.
There is a minor problem, we have to get past. We in the twenty-first century find it hard to understand the apocalyptic writing that our spiritual ancestors immediately recognized to be wonderful news. Basically what this picture-rich language does is to assure us that to grow in grace, the community of faith can, and will, live through the ugliness of hatred in order to fully appreciate what evil is, and show us that in God, we have what it takes to rise above the evil, and then take our part to actualize God’s master plan, which is bound to witness evil’s eventual demise. By living through the tough times, the church finds the kind of steadfastness that enables us, as share holders in the movement, to act in faith, rather than re-act in victimhood to the virus of fear. Fear needs to be exorcised from us because it will mutate into any of the several kinds of militant fundamentalisms that distorts what the Epistle of James calls “Religion … pure and undefiled”. As far as their root causes are concerned, the similarities between Islamic fundamentalism and fundamentalism in its Christian forms are not that much different from each other. No matter the religion, they lead to bigotry and violence.
About two weeks ago, President Obama, reacted to the beheading of the young American, Abdul-Rahman Kassig, by saying “We grieve together….”
The president made a wise assumption. It is well nigh impossible to do grief work alone. It is in the context of the community of love that grief work is successfully done by those who suffer times of loss in their pilgrimage through life. Nursed by the Holy Spirit, they will complete their recovery of wholeness. In community life we are shown how to grieve with hope through togetherness with others. This is what empowered Paula Kassig, Abduhl’s mother, to know that our “Our hearts are battered, but they will mend….”
What has the season of Advent to do with all of this? Everything! This blue/violet time is about the night of the alert gate keeper with his lamp, fueled and trimmed. He is more than the economy motel manager who says in the motel add campaign, “We’ll leave the light on for you”, who then goes off duty. The Adventide gate keeper stays with his personal consciousness present, which is more than just leaving a light bulb on. The message in this is that we are called to keep bright our awareness — not of anything in particular, but to be aware of our awareness in the now, forgiving our yesterdays, anticipating the unknown gifts and challenges of tomorrow.
Here are just a couple/few observations about the awareness that is our human consciousness: It has the ability not just to function, but to think about itself, and to wonder how it came to be. Human consciousness usually senses that it has a creator, and, more often than not, desires a relationship with the source of its being. When we explore and search for the Source (who, as it turns out, searches for us also) we allow ourselves to be sculpted into the image of God.
Consciousness has something to do with the brain. But it is not the brain anymore than one who is heard from a distant location is the telephone. Consciousness is not physical like the brain is, and yet it has something in common with the brain. A well exercised consciousness performs better than one that spends its time with junk television or taking drugs. A good consciousness is important to the functioning of the healthy soul that can deal with the challenges of life. Throughout life, the developing consciousness of a soul encounters others — some good, others evil. The good ones can be beautiful blessings; but others can be ugly, hurtful, and evil. An unhealthy consciousness does not know this, and freezes up with anxiety. It fails the spiritual fitness tests of life because it lacks flexibility. Because a consciousness like this cannot cope well, it retreats from all unfamiliar situations. An incompetent consciousness, because of its inability to engage constructively with the events of the world, and make its personal impact on the creation with others, does not take responsibility for its share of creation’s well being. Do you remember the one talent slave who buried his treasure which his master entrusted to him? Out of a fundamentally healthy consciousness, as it works through encounters with others, both good and evil, comes its spiritual growth along with its positive influence upon everything in its midst.
As he lives faithfully in the now, the gate keeper in the little parable part of this Gospel does not know when his master will return. Because of his healthy relationship to existential uncertainty, he has a heightened sense of the present moment, even though any particular moment can be discouraging. But he is not discouraged. Although the keeper cannot see God, he believes in God’s paradoxical nature. Because he believes the Son of Man is coming, he feels the real presence of God in his “now”. By way of contrast, we in these stretches of time when we abandon our callings to be faithful, can become like restless children in the back seat — “Are we there yet???” For children like this, the scenery along the way is not present to them. They are unconscious of it.
Advent needs to be experienced for what God intends it to be, the assurance that we are taken care of in the here and now of life. By embracing the faith that Jesus is on his way back to us, without trying to understand Jesus’ coming in a controlling sort of way, gives us the benefit of being mindful of each moment now even as it slips downstream into the past. Can we accept the replacement flow of uncertain events from the future? By embracing the faith that the oncoming events of time — some lovely; others distasteful, they all have their parts to play in the highway-building enterprise for the Advent of Jesus. A spirituality that does this eases anxiety. We only struggle when we let our vision stray from the present moment — glancing over our shoulders because we have been “spooked” by remorse, or peering ahead toward some imagined disaster we dread but cannot see. Within the now lies all peace upon which we must stay focused, accompanied by the vague, but peripheral vision of the past and future, which we can only glimpse but not see directly.
If, with the help of the Holy Spirit, who animates daily our church by being her “lord and giver of life”, then we can persevere in what is sometimes unimaginable: Persevere in the heroic pattern of Paula Kassig, who said with aching compassion for her neighbors, “Our hearts are battered, but they will mend. The world is broken, but it will be healed in the end. And good will prevail as the one God of many names will prevail,” This is the kind of spiritual foundation that makes Joanna Field’s observation faithfully reasonable: It is indeed true: “Continual mindfulness is readiness to accept whatever comes”. It is the Advent spirituality that calls God to us. It is associated with the light of wakeful awareness.