Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Meditations for Advent, Week 1

During the four weeks preceding December 25th, Christians observe the season of Advent. In a literal sense, the four weeks of Advent are the darkest of the year in the Northern hemisphere. Where I live, the sun rises at approximately 7:00 a.m. and sets at 4:30 p.m. giving us only 9.5 hours of daylight out of 24.

We await the return of the Light at Advent, as our brothers and sisters in other faith traditions observe different yet similar practices designed to sustain hope in darkness and stay alert for God's presence: Milad un Nabi is celebrated by Muslims to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad--gifts are exchanged, food is distributed to the poor, and prayers are offered in mosques decorated with lights. Hanukkah is the festival celebrated by Jewish people in this season, championing the triumph of light over darkness and commemorating the continual burning of the Holy Temple menorah for eight days when only one day of oil was available. Yule is the Pagan European festival upon which many Christmas customs are loosely based, hailing the rebirth of the sun/return of the Light and the commencement of Winter. Many Hindu families in the Western world participate in cultural Christmas traditions. In addition, modern Hindus observe a five-day festival, Pancha Ganapati, honoring Lord Ganesha and decorating the home with lamps and lights.

It is my opinion that in order for it to have practical value, any religious faith must be firmly anchored into the concrete experience of daily human life. We live and breathe and move in human bodies, in human dwellings, in human communities--our faith practices must serve our core humanity or they become meaningless.

As we live in increasing physical darkness and cold, how do we meaningfully engage with our present experience? And what of mental, emotional or spiritual darkness? The practice of meditation teaches us to allow and confront rather than escape our present experience.

In the scripture for the first week of Advent the Gospel of Matthew tells us to remain "alert" in times of uncertainty. When it's harder to see, harder to know, harder to understand, what can we do? We can take comfort in our collective unknowing. Not even the angels know, says Matthew, but this is no excuse for becoming dark and dull. We are instructed to "be ready," prepared to respond: awake, vivid and sharp in the midst of  indistinct shadows. What is to come we do not know, but turning away from the darkness and giving up is to denounce the valor of the common human struggle. Face the darkness, allow the uncertainty and stay awake to the world's suffering. The Light may yet return!

This first week of Advent we meditate on this scriptural passage from Matthew, chapter 24 verses 36-44. First read the passage then find an undisturbed place to practice your meditation.

Please sit comfortably and close your eyes. Set a timer for the time that you have to meditate.

You are now invited to the vivid experience of stillness. See the darkness behind your eyelids. Breathe into the void of activity. Sit in the presence of yourself, and welcome unknowing. Greet uncertainty. Be with what is, and stay alert. {Allow for silent, reflective time}. As this time draws to a close, know that you do not know. Know that the angels themselves do not know. Here is a mantra to repeat this week: breathing in, I am awake. Breathing out, I am ready. Come Lord. 

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