Preparing …

A few thoughts leaning toward this coming Sunday’s collect …  

 At the Eucharist I asked the children of the Melrose school – how many of your are athletes?  If you are getting ready for a big event, how do you prepare? They answered:  I practice.  I scrimmage with my team.  I stretch.   I run laps.  I eat lots of spaghetti the night before.  I get enough sleep.  I eat a good breakfast.

And how many of you are musicians?  If you are getting ready for a concert, how do you prepare?   They answered:    I practice a lot.  I learn the words.  I learn the music really well.  I play lots of scales and arpeggios.  I stretch my fingers.  I exercise so I can breathe.  I go to bed early the night before – and I eat a good breakfast.

The two great mysteries – the Incarnation and the Resurrection, requre an athletic-like preparation.  A thorough music-like training.   Not to prepare for these events of the soul, is to ask for an injury, the pain of  too much light burning and blinding heart and mind and psyche.

All of our advent meditations and prayers lead us to this final collect of the season:

                          Purify our conscience

                              Almighty God

                          by you daily visitation,

                             that your Son Jesus Christ,

                             at his coming

                            may find in us a mansion prepared for himself.

What an awesome and terrifying prayer!  For if Jesus Christ at his coming finds a dwelling place for himself in me, there will be no peace, at least not the kind of peace I crave: my own little comfortable quiet in my own little world of temperature-controlled order and stability.  For what will the Prince of Peace bring to me if he makes my inner being his throne?  Iraq and Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, Sudan, the Congo, Indonsesia, slavery, famine, displacement, disease and death, the delicate ozone layer, poisoned soil, polluted oceans.   From refugees to coral reefs, the Prince of Peace will trouble my soul like the prophets over Israel and not give me a moment’s peace.  

If I thought the floating anxiety of unquenchable desire felt awkward, unquenchable world-sized compassion must be worse. 

Thomas Merton said in The Sign of Jonas “There is no wilderness so terrible, so beautiful, so arid and so fruitful as the wilderness of compassion.  It is the only desert that shall truly flourish like the lily.”

Ah, we hope so, that this desert will flourish like the lily. 

Just not in MY garden, please.

Because for compassion to flourish, so much of me has to change and die.   So much selfishness  must be purified, tried in the refiner’s fire: the ever-accumulating dross of fear and pride, sloth and weakness, ignorance and craving and anger, all those things that make me so lovable!  … must be transformed. 

What a thankless, yea verily, what a hopeless task! 

Okay okay I get it.

I’ve been working up to this my whole life.  Like the young Augustine writing about mere lust, “Make me chaste, but not yet…” I have been saying, “Make me compassionate, but … not yet.”

Well then, when?

Why not this Advent?

Advent is like an initiation rite.  In Christianity, we baptize initiates, but most of us do not remember this event, and even so, it is only the first of many stages of consciousness we must enter and  pass through toward union with Divine Love.  Baptism signifies a dying to sin and rising to new life in Christ.   The purpose of any initiation rite in any religion is to once and for all overcome the fear of death.  Dionysius, Osiris, Mithras, were Mediterranean gods who died and rose again from the dead.  The initiation rites in these religions preceeded Christianity and offered the same reward:  to live no longer for ourselves, but for the one who died and rose again.  The rites simulated death, so that the initiate would fear no more – indeed, the adept would live into a full, mature human experience.  

Christian baptism also brings us to full humanity, and this sacrament is sufficient for the soul.  But  how many labyrinths does life  put in our way – how many distractions draw us from the path of perfection, how often do we stumble and fall and hurt others – and sometimes because we mistake our being saved for being right?   And how many of us have so thorougly embraced the truth of our faith so that we no longer fear death?   For death is conquored by Christ, that’s the whole point.  Death is conquored, so we can live with compassion, to heal and help this broken world, to bring about the kingdom of heaven on earth.

And so every season of Advent the church teaches us again the apocalyptic sayings of Jesus, so that we tremble, imagining the end of everything.  And every year we hear John the Baptist in the desert calling to us to repentence, conversion, turning from sin, to purification to prepare for The One who is coming.

Purify our conscience, Almighty God

That your Son Jesus Christ

At his coming …

And Christians find this time, this advent initation rite useful, because each of us each year acquire new habits of distraction and distortions, and have to find our way back to the initial vision and calling implicit in our baptism.  We find, that, after all, we are not ready for our own deaths, let alone death on behalf of our friends:  for no greater love hath any man than to lay his life down for his friends.

Is this what I want?

Yes. 

Yes.

What else is there?  

What other possible meaning could life hold?

The Love that came into human life, the Incarnation,

Waits … like a refugee

Where there is no room in the inn. 

Except my own heart.

May he find in us, at his coming, a room, a mansion prepared for himself.

   

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2 Responses to “Preparing …”

  1. Michael Krahn Says:

    Hey,

    I just put up a series of posts about Thomas Merton that I think you’d enjoy at:

    http://michaelkrahn.com/blog/thomas-merton/

  2. Andrea Says:

    And how many of us have so thorougly embraced the truth of our faith so that we no longer fear death? For death is conquored by Christ, that’s the whole point. Death is conquored, so we can live with compassion, to heal and help this broken world, to bring about the kingdom of heaven on earth.

    Suzanne, your words continue to warm my heart and light my soul. This paragraph above is where I’m currently hitting a brick wall in my faith….A very big, strong brick wall. I’ll continue praying, reading, and believing. Jesus will lead me around this wall.

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