Posts Tagged ‘Advent’

Everybody knows…

November 23, 2009

Advent begins (thematically) in Apocalypse.  There’s no better way to get in the mood for the Apocalypse than listening to Leonard Cohen.  My daughter Grace took me to Cohen’s 2009 concert tour at Madison Square Garden a few weeks ago. 

The old man on his 2009 concert tour

I loved Leonard Cohen’s poetry before Judy Collins made “Suzanne” famous sometime in the sixties.  Boys serenaded me with “Suzanne” in high school and college, but my life’s sound track took on the colors and images of Leonard Cohen’s songs at every phase of my life.  And so, in a way this concert played my own life.  Surprisingly, a gazillion other people in Madison Square Garden clearly thought the same thing.  When invited to sing along – all gazillion people sang every word, including my daughter.   I cried several times.  Grace and I clung to each other more than once.

So getting ready for Advent, I’m singing “The Future” (Get ready for the future: it is murder) and “Everybody Knows” :

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded.  Everybody
rolls with their fingers crossed.  Everybody knows the
war is over.  Everybody knows the good guys lost.  Every-
body knows the fight was fixed: the poor stay poor, the
rich get rich.  That’s how it goes.  Everybody knows.

Everybody knows that the boat is leaking.  Everybody
knows the captain lied.  Everybody got this broken
feeling like their father or their dog just died.  Everybody
talking to their pockets.  Everybody wants a box of
chocolates and a long-stem rose.  Everybody knows.

Everybody knows that you love me, baby.  Everybody
knows that you really do.  Everybody knows that you’ve
been faithful, give or take a night or two.  Everybody
knows you’ve been discreet but there were so many
people you just had to meet without your clothes.  And
everybody knows.

Everybody knows that it’s now or never.  Everybody
knows that it’s me or you.  Everybody knows that you
live forever when you’ve done a line or two.  Everybody
knows the deal is rotten: Old Black Joe’s still picking
cotton for your ribbons and bows.  Everybody knows.

Everybody knows that the Plague is coming.  Every-
body knows that it’s moving fast.  Everybody knows
that the naked man and woman – just a shining
artifact of the past.  Everybody knows the scene is dead,
but there’s going to be a metre on your bed that will
disclose what everybody knows.

Everybody knows that you’re in trouble.  Everybody
knows what you’ve been through, from the bloody
cross on top of Calvary to the beach at Malibu.  Every-
body knows it’s coming apart: take one last look at this
Sacred Heart before it blows.  And everybody knows.

So why sing this stuff?  Because it’s cathartic.  Everybody knows – don’t they – about the dangers of monoculture, patenting seeds, chemicals and pesticides poisoning farmland, the threats to our food security?  Everybody knows – don’t they – about the world-wide financial crises caused by corporate greed?  Everybody knows about climate change and irreversible threats to life on this planet caused by human beings.  Everybody knows  how our policies and exploitations breed terrorism … 

Sometimes I’m afraid I’ll implode carrying what I know.  Living with the sisters can be hard, because they make it their prophetic Christian business “to know.”  Knowing begets a sense of apocalypse, not just in Advent.

Last verse of “The Future”

Things are going to slide in all directions
Won’t be nothing
Nothing you can measure any more
The blizzard of the world
has crossed the threshold
and it has overturned
the order of the soul
When they said REPENT
I wonder what they meant.

But that’s the second week of Advent.

My apocalypse-defying geraniums in the kitchen window of Saint Aidan's House, Bluestone Farm.

Advent Pilgrimage

December 8, 2008

Bede and I led our annual Advent retreat this weekend, assisted with soundscapes and musical reflections by Sr. Helena Marie.  Because people  loved a “pilgrimage” feature last year, we decided to expand the theme for the whole of this year’s retreat. 

What is a Pilgrimage?  A pilgrimage is a journey to a sacred place.  Ironically, the arrival at the shrine or spring or rock or church or grave is hardly the point.  (The destination might be shockingly ordinary – what did the shepherds or Magi see that first Christmas?  An ordinary newborn baby, yet, they didn’t go away disappointed.)   

First, a pilgrimage requires separation from the ordinary. For the duration of the journey you are neither there nor here.  The no-place between there and here is a liminal place, where you are vulnerable to the sacred.  (On the way to the cave in Bethlehem, the shepherds and magi had been prepared by angels and portents to see through the ordinary.)

You arrive at your pilgrimage destination with gifts to give, and you receive your token of success, a scallop shell, a cross, a “boon” to bring back. You turn around and go home.  But having been in the liminal place, having allowed yourself to open to the Holy, you return to the ordinary to find that you are changed.  And that is the point of going on a pilgrimage: to be changed.

The heart of the retreat was about the pilgrimage in sacred architecture. 

Monastery Church

Monastery Church

How from ancient times (Egypt, the tabernacle in the Sinai desert, the Temple of Solomon) the proportions and spaces of a holy place evoked modes of consiousness.  Grand cathedrals and ordinary churches also offer corners and alcoves and tricks of light, small spaces and open spaces for multiple moods and modes for prayer and meditation.  Bede guided us and let us experience these themes and feelings in the monastery church.

Our Advent pilgrimage acknowledged these middle days of Advent: the call to separation, of repentance, of conversion and change.  We thought about something in our lives we needed to separate from and wrote them and burned them (in the monastery church).  We washed ourselves with refreshing water (in the chapter room). We looked at the mysterious series of arches, leading from the chapter room to the dark hallways, saying “yes” like Mary, to the Unknown. We processed by candlelight to a cresche scene we set up in the enclosure library, enclosed in fabric and darkness, but lit from within with fairy lights and to which we brought our own light.  We rested there, absorbing the shocking ordinariness of this scene.   

Nobody said, “Hey these figures are only wood!”  Like children, our faces reflected the sheer delight of an inner revelation projected onto the scene.   You come on pilgrimage to be changed, and … surprised.

O That Thou Wouldst Rend The Heavens…

November 30, 2008

And Come Down …    Isaiah 64:1.  (This morning’s text from Hebrew Scriptures.)

For weeks now in the daily lectionary we’ve been listening to, absorbing, and discussing the apocalyptic texts:  the end of the world, judgment, horror, fire, floods, darkness.   Today, I Advent, the church has us contemplate apocalypse still, even though the new year has come.  We begin with darkness, destruction.

 (Please see my website for more on I Advent.)  

Last night we sang First Vespers of the First Sunday of Advent.  Rather than impending apocalypse we sang themes of hope: “It shall come to pass in the last day, that the mountain of God’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted about the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.”  We sang, “Drop down, you heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness: let the earth open, and let them bring forth salvation.”  The antiphon on the Magnificat was, “Behold, the Name of our God, cometh from afar: and the glory filleth all the earth.”

Finally, we chanted tropes of longing in the incense filled chapel, the first advent candle lit, the winter darkness deeper outside than it has been since a year ago at this time.  And at Lauds this morning we sang, “Now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.”  Not doom.  Not the end.  But salvation.


Last week I went to Holy Cross monastery for a few days to work on the Advent retreat.  In the bookstore I found a card from a painting by Beate Heinen:  O Heiland, Reisse Die Himmel Auf. (O Savior, tear the skies apart – or, O that you would rend the heavens and come down).  A crowd of faceless men, women and children move together in muted shadows.  Among these people a man with oversized hands, partly in the shadow protects a woman and a child moving with crowd.  A fissure of light, a rending of Reality opens earth colors and detail: the sleeping infant on the mother’s shoulder, and the mother herself looking at us.  She knows we are watching her, and she lets us know she knows. 

I look with longing to the skys.  O that thou wouldst rend the heavens and come down!  But, in fact, Emmanuel, God with us, has already broken through.

Here’s a link to this Beate Heinen’s work for further meditation. 

On that sight is a picture of Joseph dreaming, the events before and after the Nativity around him, and a startling angel connecting all the events over his sleeping form.