Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, . . . and what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
From “The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats
I have been thinking about journeys lately.
Not physical journeys, but journeys of the heart and soul.
I suppose I’m fortunate that my Christian faith keeps me from being too concerned about the dying of the light in the fall. Advent is one of the journeys that I’m on that means I think more about moving toward the light than worrying about the darkness.
It is no coincidence that Paganism, Judaism, Christianity and Kwanzaa all occur when the sun spends more time on the other side of the globe. When better to memorialize the miracle of oil lamps that never burn down? To celebrate the return of the sun? To await the birth of the Light of the World?
Advent, for me, is the journey toward that Light, and also the gestation time of that light. Waiting patiently, lighting the Advent wreath, each week bringing more light, then the Christmas tree lights, then behold, a birth and a rebirth, God making all things new; a new child who will change the world forever, a new year when it feels at first as if anything is possible.
Sometimes we have to take journeys that we did not ask for. Journeying through this year of 2015 has been a nightmare for me personally, as I had to say goodbye to my beloved brother and start the journey of grief; it has also been a nightmare for the country and the world as we have mourned victims of racial massacres, terrorist attacks, more young black men murdered by police, and the rise of militant fascistic speech from Presidential candidates. We watched refugees fleeing the hell on earth that Isis is creating and saw bodies of children left behind on beaches. We saw people cocooned in comfort here in the US acting more terrified by Ebola than compassionate for its victims.
At times it did indeed feel as if the center would not hold, as if things were falling apart. What have we wrought? Has the universe slipped away into a black hole? Has insanity become catching?
And yet, prophets appeared. Pope Francis cast a spotlight on the ideologies of the haters and exposed their weaknesses. Diplomacy prevailed on the nuclear front, and a compact to save our planet from the ecological disease humankind has visited on it was forged. Bryan Stevenson appeared as if out of nowhere to teach us that we are all better than the worst thing we have ever done.
Will we forge ahead in 2016 to continue the work that needs to be done? Or will we let the paralysis of despair keep us mired?
My bishop, the most Reverend Doug Fisher of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts, visited our church today. Aside from being a very good Angel Gabriel in the children’s Christmas Pageant, he made two points in his sermon that I had not thought of before and that startled me and spoke to me and shook me.
The first point was regarding the feeding of the 5,000 (John 6:5-9). When everyone had had their fill, Jesus told the disciples to gather up the remains. They gathered up 12 baskets of fragments of bread and fish. The number 12, the bishop explained, stands for the Church, and we are the fragments, the broken pieces. Though broken, wounded, and imperfect, we are gathered together by Jesus to make a journey toward wholeness, to help create a kingdom of justice on earth as it is in heaven.
In his second point, the bishop said that most of the prophecies about Jesus’s coming were from Isaiah. It is in Isaiah that we find the beautiful poetry of Chapter 40, particularly “. . . those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. “Isn’t that backward?” he asked. Shouldn’t we learn how to walk before running, run before flying? Or maybe, he said, we try to fly in the busy-ness of our loves, we run from place to place thinking that is the way to accomplish things, when in fact it is walking we really need to do.
If you begin a journey in haste, you will not last very long. You will soon grow weary and begin to think of stopping. You may also outrun your companions and then, when you flag, be left behind.
No, the Beloved Community of believers in justice must walk together, putting each foot down where it will do the most good. Pope Francis’s theology did not come to him magically when he became Pope; he has had years of servanthood and experience to develop his compassion for the poor, the outcast, the marginalized. Bryan Stevenson has worked for years through heartache and triumph to free people from death row, to free children from death in prison, to address mass incarceration and inconsistent sentencing policies. People have been working on environmental compacts among nations since before Al Gore wrote An Inconvenient Truth. But they all walked forward, one step at a time, knowing they are in it for the long term, the marathon rather than the sprint.
As we move toward the light, longer days, and a new year, will we slouch toward Bethlehem and let the Beast prevail? Or will we re-pledge ourselves to walk with the Beloved Community again in the new year? Shall we renew the journey with fresh faith, not knowing where it may lead, but sure that it is the right thing to do?
Yes. Amen. Let it be.