Thursday, March 26, 2020

Praying the News

March 26, 2020

One way to stay grounded in God while reading or hearing the reports about the spread of COVID-19 is to pray as we process the news. This week we pray for the sick, those who have died and those who mourn, those who care for coronavirus patients, journalists, and those who are alone, every mindful of the connections among us and our global siblings and among we humans and everything else in creation.

O most mighty and merciful God, in this time of grievous sickness, we flee unto thee for succour. Deliver us, we beseech thee, from our peril; give strength and skill to all those who minister to the sick; prosper the means made use of for their cure; and grant that, perceiving how frail and uncertain our life is we may apply our hearts unto that heavenly wisdom which leadeth to eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. Prayer In Time of Great Sickness and Mortality (The Book of Common Prayer 1928, p. 45)

Please pray especially this week:

For coronavirus patients in our own communities and around the world, and for everyone dealing with the effects of COVID-19. 

Six more cases were identified in Nebraska on Wednesday. Local news sources have begun updating information for our communities regularly. Earlier this week, the United States had more than 55,000 cases. The Centers for Disease Control updates the numbers for the United States daily, while the World Health Organization provides updates from around the world. Of course, the numbers alone can’t convey the severity of the disease or its effects on patients and their families and communities.

O God, the strength of the weak and the comfort of sufferers: Mercifully accept our prayers, and great to your servants who are ill the help of your power, that their sickness may be turned into health, and our sorrow into joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.Prayer for Recovery from Sickness (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 458)

For those who have died from COVID-19, and those who loved them.

The United States has now had more than 1000 deaths known to be from this virus. 

Almighty God Father of mercies and giver of comfort: Deal graciously, we pray, with all who mourn; that casting all their care on you, they may know the consolation of your love; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.(From The Burial of the Dead II, The Book of Common Prayer, p. 505)

For medical professionals and other healthcare workers caring for coronavirus patients or preparing for a possible wave of hospitalizations in their communities. 

Read about the experience of the medical staff at one Brooklyn Hospital to get a sense of the huge challenges they face when coronavirus cases surge. The health workers in the emergency department at this hospital are beginning their morning shift with prayer, and we can pray with them and all the other medical professionals, hospital workers, and first responders putting themselves in harm’s way to care for others.

Sanctify, O Lord, those whose you have called to the study and practice of the art of healing, and to the prevention of disease and pain. Strengthen them by your life-giving Spirit, that by their ministries the health of the community may be promoted and your creation glorified, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.Prayer for Doctors and Nurses, (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 460)

For journalists who go out to gather news to keep us informed.

As journalists interview government authorities, medical personnel, and people in places most affected by the coronavirus, they expose themselves to potential infection. In a democracy, their work is crucial especially when the decisions of those in power carry the power of life and death as directly as they do in a public health crisis. 

Almighty God, you proclaim your truth in every age by many voices: Direct, in our time, we pray, those who speak where many listen and write what many read; that they may do their part in making the heart of this people wise its mind sound and its will righteous; to the honor of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.Prayer For those who Influence Public Opinion, (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 827)

For those are alone. 

More people than usual are alone and feeling lonely as care facilities bar visitors, older people are advised not to visit with grandchildren and adult children who are unable to practice social isolation, public worship is suspended, and friends cannot gather. Along with our phone calls and notes to people who are alone, we can assure them of our prayers.

Almighty God, whose Son had nowhere to lay his head: Grant that those who live alone may not be lonely in their solitude, but that, following in his steps, they may find fulfillment in loving you and their neighbors; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.Prayer For Those Who Live Alone, (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 829)

As we pray for others, let us pray for our own hearts to be open so we can see the needs in the world around us and gladly respond to those needs. As springtime arrives even during this pandemic, pray that we find refreshment and inspiration in the beauty of God’s creation:

O heavenly Father, who has filled the world with beauty; Open our eyes to behold your gracious hand in all your works; that, rejoicing in your whole creation, we may learn to serve you with gladness; for the sake of him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.Prayer for Joy in God’s Creation (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 814)








Friday, March 20, 2020

Praying the News

March 20, 2020

Ecosystems are by definition infused and intertwined with all the living things included in those systems.This year, the introduction of a new virus into humans has resulted in a major shift by causing a rise in human illness and mortality along with a rapid modification of several of our habits and activities in response to this threat. 

The interconnectedness of all people and of all living things on our planet has perhaps never before been so acutely understood as it is now. Acting as if care of creation and care of all the other things we hold dear are separate concerns has always been based on false assumptions that humans could somehow opt out of a world created to follow natural laws. (Our failure to reduce carbon emissions despite all we know about the physics of global warming illustrates the folly of these false assumptions.) Now more than ever we need to break out of the categorical boundaries that so often dominate our thinking and be aware of the whole of creation and our part in it (not our part apart from it). 

During the coming weeks and months of this pandemic, I’m renewing the Praying the Earth’s News posts that were a regular feature of this blog for a couple of years, paying particular attention to the connections among us and our global siblings and among we humans and everything else in creation.

O most mighty and merciful God, in this time of grievous sickness, we flee unto thee for succour. Deliver us, we beseech thee, from our peril; give strength and skill to all those who minister to the sick; prosper the means made use of for their cure; and grant that, perceiving how frail and uncertain our life is we may apply our hearts unto that heavenly wisdom which leadeth to eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. Prayer In Time of Great Sickness and Mortality (The Book of Common Prayer 1928, p. 45)

Please pray especially this week for:

Coronavirus patients in our own communities and around the world, and for everyone dealing with the effects of COVID-19.  This map from the Our World in Data  coronavirus website shows the spread of the disease from its beginning to early this week.  



The Centers for Disease Control website cdc.gov provides lots of useful information about the coronavirus, including this page with updates about the number of cases in each state. 

O God, the strength of the weak and the comfort of sufferers: Mercifully accept our prayers, and great to your servants who are ill the help of your power, that their sickness may be turned into health, and our sorrow into joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.Prayer for Recovery from Sickness (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 458)

Healthcare workers caring for coronavirus patients or preparing for a wave of hospitalizations in their communities. This story about the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha gives a look at what hospitals across our diocese are facing on some scale. All of our doctors, nurses, other healthcare workers, members of hospital staffs, and first responders will be working long hours under unprecedented conditions. 

Sanctify, O Lord, those whose you have called to the study and practice of the art of healing, and to the prevention of disease and pain. Strengthen them by your life-giving Spirit, that by their ministries the health of the community may be promoted and your creation glorified, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.Prayer for Doctors and Nurses, (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 460)

People who are unemployed or losing businesses or customers because of the pandemic.  Most of us have observed some piece of the economic impact either personally or somewhere in our communities. Here’s an overview of the wider socio-economic impact.

Heavenly Father, we remember before you those who suffer want and anxiety from lack of work. Guide the people of this land so to use our public and private wealth that all may find suitable and fulfilling employment, and receive just payment for their labor; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.Prayer For the Unemployed (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 824)

For the church as we find new ways to be the church and serve those in need. The Diocese of Nebraska is maintaining a list of remote resources https://www.episcopal-ne.org/remote.html offering alternative ways to worship and pray together during this time when we cannot gather in person. Several parishes are finding creative ways to continue their usual outreach ministries while maintaining social distancing, while this article from Wirecutter suggests five ways to help our communities at this time.

Everliving God, whose will it is that all should come to you through your Son Jesus Christ: Inspire our witness to him, that all may know the power of his forgiveness and the hope of his resurrection; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.Prayer for the Mission of the Church (The Book of Common Prayer, pp. 816-817)

As we pray for others, let us pray for our own hearts to be open so we can see the needs in the world around us and gladly respond to those needs. As springtime arrives even during this pandemic, pray that we find refreshment and inspiration in the beauty of God’s creation:

O heavenly Father, who has filled the world with beauty; Open our eyes to behold your gracious hand in all your works; that, rejoicing in your whole creation, we may learn to serve you with gladness; for the sake of him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.Prayer for Joy in God’s Creation (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 814)










Thursday, January 2, 2020

Australia: Prayer and Action and Apocalypse

The new year has begun with news of the growing Australian wildfires, with thousands of people fleeing the fires and heading to beaches for safety and evacuation and an estimated 480 million animals dying in the fires so far. Headlines about the fires in recent days have described the fires as ‘apocalyptic’; The Times of London on December 31 said “Thousands trapped on Australian beaches by ‘apocalyptic’ fires”, while a New York Times article  bears the headline “Apocalyptic Scenes in Australia as Fires Turn Skies Blood Red”. 

While it’s understood that this use of the term ‘apocalyptic’ does not line up formally with the theological sense of the term, it’s an apt word for what is happening in Australia for the people whose world as they have known it does seem to have come to an end. When your home, your land, the familiar plants and animals are all gone, it feels like the end of the world, and it is certainly the end of a way of life in a place that is forever changed. These fires have taken hold at the end of the hottest year in Australian history, with the average 2019 temperature 1.52 degrees C hotter than the long-term average temperature. Australia is experiencing the effects of climate change on a big scale. 

Maybe we need a new term for this sort of “apocalypse”. Instead of talking about the “end times”, we could talk about “death times” or a time of loss on a scale most of us can’t imagine. It is not only the death of individuals, both human and non-human, that makes us reach for the language of apocalypse to describe it, but also the threat of losing entire species as bigger areas come under threat on a continent that is known for its unique fauna and flora. 

How can we in the Church respond to a climate-fueled tragedy of this scale? As with any loss, we can acknowledge it and talk about it, making it clear that we do see what is happening to a nation that is one of our closest allies. Many Americans seem only vaguely aware of what is unfolding in Australia as 2020 begins. Ignoring the suffering there goes against the command to love our neighbors; moreover, not learning from this tragedy and continuing to let climate change accelerate at a rapid pace puts others — and at some point, ourselves — in danger of other large-scale losses.

The Episcopal Church’s online resources for Creation Care  include some practical, close-to-home actions we can take. These resources are a great starting point, especially commendable for helping us to think more intentionally about caring for God’s creation. Yet we know that even our best efforts at stewardship and conservation as individuals and parishes, while good and worthwhile, aren’t enough to make enough of a difference.  

What then should we do once we have seen and acknowledged the damage not only of the fires in Australia but of the past year’s fires in California, the losses here in Nebraska and so many other places around the world from flooding, the end of traditional ways of living as permafrost melts in the Arctic and sea level rise threatens island nations? 

The temptation is to do nothing in the face of such a great threat because our efforts seem so small and futile. However, the Gospel lesson for today’s Daily Office holds a different suggestion for us. The lesson is John’s version of the feeding of the five thousand (John 6:1-14). In John’s telling of the story, Jesus asks Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” Philip responds by saying that the challenge is too great. In saying “six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little”, Philip basically says that the problem is too big for them to address. Then Andrew says, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish.” Andrew immediately adds, as if to show that he understands the impossibility of feeding all these people, “But what are they among so many people?” What I love about John’s version of the story is imagining the boy calling Andrew’s attention to what he has to offer. When small children hear that someone needs help, they are often eager to offer their help even when the adults in the room think that the child has nothing significant to offer. I imagine this boy overhearing the conversation about finding food for all these people and saying, “Look! I have some barley loaves and two fish. You can have those to help feed the people!” 

While Philip and Andrew made it clear that they were too sophisticated to take the boy’s offer seriously, the fact that the child offered what he had made all the difference. It was all that Jesus needed. This suggests that rather than do nothing about climate change because nothing we can do seems big enough, we should instead humbly offer what we have: our ability to stay informed and talk about what is happening, our acts of stewardship and conservation, our phone calls and letters to elected officials, our ability to organize or attend meetings and rallies and marches to call attention to climate change and call for significant policy changes to address it, and our prayers. I’ve seen several poignant requests for our prayers from Australians via social media this past week. We may feel like our prayers are insignificant — and there has been some public shaming of people who offer “thoughts and prayers” when more seems to be in order — but some of the people in the middle of these fires want us to offer them anyway. 

Our prayers and our actions seem so small, but we don’t know how they will be used, how they will combine with the efforts of others, how we might eventually change the hearts of the people with the power to make the large-scale societal changes that can mitigate these disasters in the long-term. 


Please pray for Australia, for its people, plants, and animals, and for our global climate. And please act in accordance with these prayers, offering in faith whatever actions each of us can offer. 

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Compassion and Climate Chaos

Lent 3C: Suffering and Blame

In a post at the beginning of Lent, I shared my plan to read David Wallace-Wells’s book The Uninhabitable Earth alongside our daily lectionary readings and Lenten prayers. This being the Lenten wilderness, I didn’t know what I might encounter along the way since by definition the wilderness has no set paths to follow and no guarantees of what we might find. Along with other Nebraskans, not long into Lent I found myself in unfamiliar territory.

On Thursday, March 14 in Nebraska, blizzard conditions followed heavy rains as air pressure dropped in a “bomb cyclone” event. With the ground still frozen hard and more snowpack than usual melting, rivers and creeks flooded and huge chunks of ice got pushed into areas near waterways, resulting in great destruction in both rural areas and towns. Roads and bridges were badly damaged or destroyed, making areas already cut off by floodwaters even more isolated from aid. 

In the days since, we Nebraskans have greatly appreciated the assurance of prayers from people in other places, just as we have appreciated all sorts of practical help, such as money to help with flood relief, farmers from other states bringing hay to feed Nebraska livestock, and skilled volunteers simply showing up to help. And Nebraskans have been helping their neighbors and encouraging each other as communities begin the process of clean-up and rebuilding. Among the shock and sorrow at the losses resulting from the floods, the compassion people have given to other people and to animals has been a bright light showing the way forward and drawing us together. 

However, compassion has not been a universal reaction to our suffering. In this Sunday’s Gospel reading (Luke 13:1-9), 
Jesus is asked whether people who died in terrible ways were worse sinners than others; in other words, Jesus is asked whether people who experience unusual suffering somehow especially deserve their suffering. Today we might ask, do bad things really happen to good people? (Yes, they do.) Yet even if we know perfectly well that terrible things can happen to people who personify faith and kindness and moral goodness, we still in our culture — perhaps especially in our recent history — have a tendency to look for someone to blame when things go wrong. When we assume someone is to blame, and especially when we make an assumption, conscious or unconscious, that the someone who is to blame is probably the very person who is suffering, compassion dwindles. 

Jesus’s answer to this question about sinners getting what they deserve is basically that we are all sinners, all in need of repentance. If bad things happen only to people who have sinned, we are all in trouble. 

We know that the more our planet warms, the more extreme weather events we will have as a result of climate chaos. Spring flooding is not atypical in this part of the United States, but floods of this magnitude are atypical. (See, for example, the article Climate change’s fingerprints are on U.S. Midwest floods: scientist from Reuters.)   It is fair to say, then, that our failure to stop climate change when we could have done so or our failure to mitigate climate change now that it is upon us contributed to this disaster. If we are invested in the blame game more than we are invested in Jesus’s Way of Love, it’s an easy step to go from acknowledging our collective failure to looking for specific people to blame for that failure and hoping to see them suffer.

Those of us who made the mistake of reading the comments on articles about the destruction here in Nebraska learned that while many people in other places had a compassionate response to our suffering, many others had no compassion for Nebraskans because we have elected political leaders who refuse to do anything to address climate change. The general tenor of these comments was that the writer didn’t feel sorry for us at all because we had brought this all on ourselves by electing the wrong sorts of people, that we got just what we deserved. (On top of being mean-spirited, these comments seemed to me especially ill-conceived given the obvious contribution of Nebraskans to stopping the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.)

Our world needs people whose first impulse is compassion rather than placing blame; as we experience more and more of the results of climate chaos, our world needs Jesus’s Way of Love perhaps more than ever before. The basic foundations of human civilization are endangered by climate instability. Such a critical point of history requires us to demonstrate the best human values and to resist the temptation to divide further into warring factions. Hope for our world in an era of environmental collapse depends on compassion for one another. That compassion, that ability to care, will, I think, yield our best outcome in generating the political will to act to mitigate climate change as well the best outcome in responding to what David Wallace-Wells calls the “cascades” of challenges and disasters resulting from climate chaos. 

Do we need to elect leaders who make addressing global warming a high priority? Yes, we do. Should people and animals who live in places that don’t elect such leaders — and right now that would be most of the United States since it’s pretty obvious from looking at legislative records and listening to campaign rhetoric that few of our leaders of either major party see climate change as a top priority or have any grasp of the size of the challenge before us — be left to suffer on their own when floods, tornadoes, droughts, or wildfires happen? No. For Christians, such a lack of compassion would simply be against everything that Jesus taught. We don’t require a moral litmus test in order for people to access basic necessities. 

And for anyone, even those who live by an “eye for an eye” blame game ethics, the ethics of blame and self-righteousness makes no sense since we don’t (at least at the moment) live in a country in which the red people all live in one place and the blue people all live in another place — not that political affiliation really tells you anything about any given individual’s concern about climate change.  

Jesus answered a question about why he made a practice of sitting down to eat with known sinners by saying, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’” (Matthew 9:13) Now in this era of climate chaos we still need to learn what it means to show mercy to people in need rather than demanding moral purity. 

The Diocese of Nebraska has published a suggested list of links to agencies accepting monetary donations for flood relief along with thanksgiving for your prayers:





Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Lenten Wilderness: The Uninhabitable Earth

The Uninhabitable Earth: Life after Warming, published two weeks ago, will help to shape my Lenten experience this year. In turn, I suspect my observance of Lent will color my reading of David Wallace-Wells’s blunt and lucid account of the present reality of climate change. My intention during Lent is to figure out every day what to give up or let go of to ensure time for a close reading of a chunk of this book along with a close reading of the Daily Office readings for that day and plenty of time for prayer. 

“It is worse, much worse, than you think,” reads the first sentence of The Uninhabitable Earth

“We confess to you, Lord, all our past unfaithfulness: the pride, hypocrisy, and impatience of our lives.” We pray this confession in our Litany of Penitence as one of many particular faults. All of the sins we confess on Ash Wednesday have some bearing on the particular sin that most directly speaks to the subject of The Uninhabitable Earth
For our waste and pollution of your creation, and our lack of concern for those who come after us,Accept our repentance, Lord. 
Yesterday’s familiar Daily Office reading from John’s Gospel (John 1:1-18) reminded us of the reality of the Incarnation, the Word that came to live among us in our world of earth, air, fire, and water. While some forms of piety emphasize a heaven / earth dualism during Lent, the reality of our faith and of our lives is that we are part of the world God created and pronounced good, the same world so deeply loved by God that Jesus, God Incarnate, came to dwell here with us. Whether we can understand it, and even if we deny it, the laws of chemistry and physics and our past and present actions are resulting in big changes that have forever changed life on our planet. And whether we can understand it, and even if we deny it, God’s love for us and for all of creation, the love that we know through Jesus’s love, is with us as we respond to the huge challenges we face. 

I’ve chosen to read The Uninhabitable Earth not despite the psychological and spiritual challenge of looking squarely at our present situation on this planet, but because of the enormity of that challenge. The temptation to look away is a true temptation, a temptation to sin. Our failure to acknowledge climate change as the central issue of our time — our practice of willful ignorance, of ignoring the very warm elephant in the room as we allow ourselves to be distracted by all sorts of craziness along with all sorts of other serious concerns that will only worsen as Earth’s temperatures soar — is more than an oversight. Our willful ignorance that results in human suffering and species extinction is a sin, and the only way to repent of willful ignorance is to seek knowledge. 

I have no idea what I’ll encounter in the practice of reflecting on this latest summary of our perilous condition alongside our daily lectionary readings and Lenten prayers, but when any of us chooses a serious Lenten discipline, we have no idea what we will encounter in our chosen wilderness. By definition, the wilderness has no set paths to follow, no guarantees of what we will find. 

In this age of global warming, we are all in the wilderness, all lost whether or not we realize it.  Choosing a forty day interior wilderness journey that acknowledges our material situation seems appropriate to me this year. I’ll post some reports along the way if I find something worth sharing.


Monday, December 24, 2018

Christmas: Wondering as We Wander

I wonder as I wander out under the sky
How Jesus my Saviour did come for to die
For poor on'ry people like you and like I,
I wonder as I wander out under the sky.
(Song by folklorist John Niles, inspired by a fragment of a folk hymn)

Christmas traditions run deep for many of us, yet despite the continuity provided by certain traditions, each year’s Christmas experience is unique. This year’s Christmas for at least a good chunk of Americans seems somewhat different as we are living through what feels like a new sort of moment in our nation’s history. The sense of instability has shown itself in recent days with a deep plunge in the stock market (heading toward possibly the worst December for the market since the Great Depression), a government shutdown, and the impending departure of Defense Secretary Mattis. Add the elements of environmental instability to this, with little encouraging news from either the scientific or the political spheres, and it’s no surprise that something feels different this Christmas. 

How any of this will play out is unclear. We have solid science to help us see what will happen if we continue on our current path of environmental destruction, but even that is uncertain as the future direction of the human actions that have gotten us into this crisis are unpredictable and the exact nature and timing of global warming’s feedback loops are still only partially known. 

The American social and political traditions and the environmental stability that felt like givens to those of us born in the middle of the twentieth century are now unreliable. Having lost our way, we are wandering, searching, hoping for something we can’t quite envision. 

The Christmas story is about hope, about light shining in the darkness. Mary’s song — our Gospel for Advent IV — reminds us that God shows mercy for people who are poor and oppressed, that those who are suffering in the present moment have real hope that a more just order will be restored. 

The Christmas story is also about wonder — the wonder of God being born among us, the wonder of a young woman receiving a visit from an angel and of a new baby with seemingly ordinary parents being seen as a King, but telling us when he is grown that his kingdom is not like other kingdoms. There is starlight, angels singing to terrified shepherds, and other people amazed at what the shepherds told them. And there is Mary, treasuring the words of the shepherds and, as Luke tells it, pondering them in her heart.

The Christmas story is about experiencing wonder as we wander toward the Light. Wonder isn’t the whole story — Mary went through the very real experience of pregnancy and childbirth along with those reflective and even mystical experiences — but perhaps it’s a necessary ingredient that we neglect at our own peril.

The wonder of Christmas was brought home for me yesterday when I went to see my young grandchildren in their congregation’s Christmas pageant. My three-year-old grandson was an angel, with the only directions being to hang around with the older angels and be where they were. But despite the efforts of the grown-ups in his life and the influence of Mr. Rogers in teaching the difference between real life and make-believe, the idea of people in costumes pretending vs. seeing the real thing is still shaky for a three-year-old, shaky enough for the enacted wonder of the story to become real wonder. When Mary brought out a baby doll that had been hidden away and put the baby in the manger, my grandson looked and looked at the baby, hovering near the manger and watching over the baby Jesus. His sense of wonder was evident and contagious. The story is still new for him, and that helped me hear the story in a new way as well. 

There are many occasions for wonder in our own daily lives. We have seen an amazing moon the past couple of evenings, a moon with a special glow. That science can explain why this moon looks different from others doesn’t take away from its beauty or its ability to expand our thoughts beyond our ourselves and our daily tasks. There are glimpses of joy on the faces of people of all ages; there are the small gray and brown birds that appear from hidden places to feed at feeders, the occasional sound of a wren, and the quiet of fields and woods far from town, and the winter skies seen from those same rural places. There is ice forming and melting, there are snowflakes falling like little stars, and the sight of friends and family who have been away from home. Wonder — and its companion, joy — are there for the noticing. 

Wondering at the world around us and finding joy in God’s creation forms our hearts to love the world. We care for what we love, and the more connected we feel to other people and all of creation, the more easily we will see the way to live whole and holy lives even when the world feels unstable and fragmented. The world needs people who are whole and holy; God needs us to do the work of mercy, justice, repair, and love that will lead to a better world for all people and all living things. 


May Christmas wonder be yours during this Christmas!

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Into the Darkness

Advent I

Perhaps it’s because Nebraska has had several snowy, wintry days already this year, or perhaps it’s because of the weight of the news about climate change. Perhaps it’s because the level of corruption, incompetence, and willful ignorance among some of our top elected officials is taking us farther from addressing global warming instead of bringing us closer to the sort of large-scale all-in effort needed to mitigate climate change and adapt to a warming world. Perhaps it’s that the scientific reports seem less abstract when we see photos of places destroyed by fires, floods, and sea level rise. Whatever the reason, as this Advent season begins, I feel more keenly than I ever have at Advent that we are journeying into darkness. 

We pray “Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light…” in our Collect for the First Sunday of Advent, and we use phrases like “dark times” to describe a difficult point of our personal or collective history. But non-metaphorical darkness, real darkness, can be a welcome time of sleep. It’s when we dream and re-energize our bodies for another day. Clear, starry skies on the darkest and coldest nights pull us into a world of wonder. Darkness is neither bad nor good, it simply is. 

However, when we aren’t safely tucked away in our beds or purposely star-gazing, darkness can be scary because we can’t see what is around us and may be disoriented. That’s when we long for a light in the darkness. A small flashlight on a walk back from star-gazing in an open field or seeing a farmstead’s yard light ahead when driving on a dark night can make a big difference. 

As we enter Advent this year, I’m keeping an image in mind of entering a quiet, restful darkness while knowing where to find some light when I need it. Maybe in the darkness, even if it's sometimes uncomfortable, we will learn something, dream something, that will help us see and participate in a new thing. In Advent, we contemplate the mystery of Christ as the one who was, who is, and who is to come again, the one that John’s Gospel describes as the Word who was from the beginning. “What has come into being in him was life,” writes John, “and the life was the light of all people.” We know where to find the light, and we also know that it’s both a necessity and a joy to pass through the darkness of Advent in order to more fully receive the light that always shines in the darkness, the light of Christ we celebrate at Christmas. 

This year, our spiritual journey into darkness seems an especially good fit for what we are experiencing in our daily lives, in this unique moment in the intertwined history of humankind and planet Earth, and in our current political situation. In the Gospel for the First Sunday of Advent, Jesus talks about our ability to see the signs of the season such as the sprouting of green leaves telling us when summer is near. We can read the signs of our times if we pay attention. Reports of daily eco-disasters and scientific reports show us different kinds of signs of the same reality. As we pay attention, the darkness can seem overwhelming. It’s disorienting because we are in an unfamiliar place. However, as we allow ourselves to see the signs and enter the darkness of our current situation, we are also entering the more familiar darkness of Advent, that darkness that is meant to help us see the Light more clearly. Even though humankind has never before been in this same place, we know how to do this because we know how to journey through Advent and we know the Light is near. 

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For a daily dose of wonder to help us reflect on our place in the vastness of creation, check out the 2018 Hubble Space Telescope Advent Calendar.