Sunday, November 30, 2008

MysticBliss: Thomas Merton on Advent

Oh, that sky!

Did you go shopping this past "black" Friday?

If you did, no need to feel ashamed. (I know some people do.) It's hard to resist the sales, and I know that it can just be fun to be out and about, sharing in the holiday zeal.

The problem is, of course, that more often it is holiday "grouch." People are out and about spending money they don't have, stressing over buying gifts for people they feel they should know well but barely know at all, thinking ahead to all the baking and the card sending and the parties they would rather skip.

For a time of renewal and birth, we certainly are not tapping into any sort of meaning.

A reminder from Thomas Merton:

It is important to remember the deep, in some ways anguished seriousness of Advent, when the mendacious celebrations of our marketing culture so easily harmonize with our tendency to regard Christmas, consciously or unconsciously, as a return to our innocence and our own infancy. But the church, in preparing us for the birth of a “great prophet,” a Savior, and a Prince of Peace, has more in mind than seasonal cheer. The Advent mystery focuses the light of faith upon the very meaning of life, history, humanity, the world, and our own being. In Advent, we celebrate the coming, and indeed the presence, of Christ in our world.

Even if you no longer celebrate a "religious" Christmas, I think you can still partake of the larger and deeper meanings of peace and purpose and presence. How will you try to do this?


Danny Lucas said...

The lighting of the candles each week in Advent is a celebration of light in our lives.... even at the darkest time of the year.

I have utilized two ways to teach my daughters the exquisite pleasure of Advent, and change with the onset of Christmas.

The Earth is nearing its peak distance in tilt away from the sun in our hemisphere now. I would take my girls and run down the hallway, then make a screeching halt sound and step on the brakes pronto.

Standing still, I told them that the entire Earth is doing that, and screeching the brakes, and switching directions to give our hemisphere an extra minute of daylight every day til next June.
"What should we do with our light?"

This stunt and question lead to new discussion every day til June; then it is done again.

One year, it was time to end the Christmas season and take everything down.
I told my daughter, Karli, that the baby in the manger should NOT be hidden from view all year.
It symbolizes the Bread of Life. I told her that we should put the manger away til next year, but put the Christ baby,..... into the bread drawer, since it represents the Bread of Life and we can be reminded each day as we reach for Our Daily Bread.

Later in springtime, her then little cousin, Donna came over to play. It was time for sandwiches and we prepared together. Donna went to the bread drawer and saw the manger baby.

She exclaimed aloud:
"Hey! There's a babydoll in here!"

Karli immediately replied:
"That's not a babydoll!
That's the Bread of Life".
A most wonderful discussion unfolded.

Use Advent to unprepare. Make every day an awareness, that the sum of ALL of life, is much bigger than the parts. Advent slows us down to purposely prepare for a new way to live.

And if, by chance, you can make snow angels and a snow man, praise God.
We built a snowman together. It takes forever to get the ball stated, then, whump-whump-roll and you cannot budge the ball anymore.
Repeat the process for the middle and the head.

I did with Karli and it was all I could do to lift the middle section with her little hands for help.

I breathed heavily and my breath was obvious.
"LOOK at that!", said I.
"You do it!"

And we both took deep breaths and breathed out watching the cooled air push away from our mouths in a stream.

I told her that when we do this, the invisible...becomes visible. The breath is always there. We just cannot see it. But in the coldest times, the invisible, becomes visible.

I asked that she remember this is true in the coldest times of our lives too. When troubles seep in, breathe out and look closely. The invisible becomes visible.
We are never alone, thanks to the gift from Advent.

Merry Christmas, Miss Bliss

blisschick said...

danny, thanks for all this beautiful stuff. i LOVE this idea of the breath and all other things invisible being made visible at this cold time of year. what a gift you have given your daughter.

epiphanygirl said...

Advent thanks and blessings to you, Christine. I have felt the draw of Christ in my life again of late, and as always, this takes me by surprise. Not only do I have to redefine my own relationship with the childhood symbols and prayers that I took for granted and later avoided, I also have to take on the family and friends who know me as a vocal, unabashed pagan. When I told my dad I say Hail Marys while the very slow water dispenser on our refrigerator does its magic, he laughed at me! I guess that may be unusual regardless of your religious persuasion (my happily Catholic sister recommended that I do calf raises while my glass fills), but there was no way my Dad could see me wearing the Catholic hat again. I guess this gives me an opportunity to marvel at not only mystery of Christianity but of the changes that can take place within the self.
Thank you for reminding me of the Advent wreath... I'm looking forward to setting one at my altar (undoubtedly made of candles I have in my witch's tool box, once used to mark the four directions) and will send you my prayers of appreciation for helping to give me back this sacred practice.

Danny Lucas said...

Thank you for your gracious words, Miss Bliss.
I am grateful.

I have not read your blog before, but was intrigued that you are scrolling two separate posts (Erie Blogs) (Erie PA Today).

I clicked the Japanese Red Maple Leaf on Snow first.
my mom died on her 87th birthday last May 21st. Ten siblings still live out of twelve. Over 100 grandchildren and great grands too.
(yes, epiphanygirl, they were Catholic :) )

I have gone to a small tree at the cemetary and collected leaves from summer, fall, and winter in the snow, so far. After I get a springtime new leaf, I will take them out of a pressing book where they are stored, and mat them in a picture of mom's first seasons underground.

I note the ritualism epiphany writes about and am most familiar with them, tho churchlife has changed over the years for me.

At the funeral, Catholic priests take a golden incense dispenser (censer)with hot coals in it. They add fragrant spices and the smoke gets going pretty good. He then, walks around the entire casket swinging the incense chamber back and forth, smoke rising to the skies in a trail behind him.
He utters prayers the entire time.

I was pallbearer with my brothers. When the above action commenced, my brother Doug, totally unfamiliar with ANY church ritual, jumped like a cattle prod hit him. He was standing next to me in alarm. I think he thought it was voodoo or something.

Later, I explained to him that what he observed was totally Biblical.
Revelations 5:8 speaks of "another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne".

Our prayers are raised to heaven co-mingled with the smoke of the incense from the golden censer the priest swings.

God is not listening at this event. It is as if He is inhaling the prayers, and after His inhale, comes an exhale....the answer to your prayers. Many people miss the answer, for they are trying to "hear".

Picture a shark 10 miles away from a bleeding person in the water. Even at that distance, a single drop of blood in the ocean causes oscillations and swift movement in the shark. He smells it.

Sound is pitifully slow by comparison.

It is important during Advent to inhale often.
Inhale deeply and see how you feel. Lightheaded?
Refreshed? Renewed? Aware? Alive?

Smell the candles as they are extinguished.

Smell the pine tar of a live pine or spruce or fir tree. Trees are the symbol of life (I will expand on that someday).

We are approaching the darkest time of the year, NOT with trembling and fear, but with Joy and Anticipation. A single spark of fire eliminates a room full of darkness.

And a child named Light of the World, does the same to a planet at the darkest time of the year.

It doesn't get any better than that on this side of heaven.

by the way, Tom Merton is a good read, sometimes deep for folks.
Try Frederick Buechner.
Start with "Whistling In The Dark".

I commented Thanksgiving Day on him at Bojosmom Blog (Erie Blogs) and his story of Brendan, an Irishman. Scoot over some time and read it.

If there is a "Bliss Meter" to accurately register Bliss levels, Buechner will register off the high end of the meter and break it into extended Great Bliss.

Thanks again for your kind words this day.
Best regards.

differenceayearmakes said...

I love to celebrate ADVENT TO EPIPHAY each year. This is my first year of blogging so I get to share it. Christine, take a look at my blog entry for today to find out how I'm celebrating this year.

Blessings of the season!

YogaforCynics said...

To the extent that I see Christmas as a spiritual occasion ("religious" is kind of a nine letter four letter word in my vocabulary), it's more in the original sense of renewal--the "reason for the season" being not Jesus but the change of season and a new beginning (of course, some might say that's what Jesus means anyway, and I'll happily go along with Christianity-as-poetry). As such, it would seem a better time to get rid of stuff rather than buying and receiving...but, these are just my random thoughts on a December day....

Danny Lucas said...

Churchianity and religiosity have nothing to do with Jesus Christ, Dr. Yoga. BOTH give him a bad name.

He had no buildings.

He never spent $20,000 to pave a parking lot as a priority over feeding the poor.

He never owned a home.

His example as servant and wayfarer has been lost on many "followers" and in the end, he will shut the door to them.
They deceive only themselves.

The birds gather twigs and straw to make a nest for their young. They can NOT accumulate enough, fast enough, and flap their wings in haste.
The eggs, and later peeps, are present a short time, and then leave.
There is absolutely nothing in the nest for Waste Management to pick up at the curb.

Next year, they start from scratch and do it all over again. The season of Spring brings new life.

Some day, we will learn to be as smart as the birds.

In this Christmas season, de-accumulation would bring Him the greatest joy.
We in the USA are but a tiny part of the world population, and the infection of lust for goods has not permeated the masses of other continents.(yet).

On this December day of random thoughts, I would have to agree that less is more when it comes to living....the way we were created to live.

In defense of those who believe, however, I would add that the urge to splurge seems equally spread in this country, and it is killing us slowly. So if the four letter word you propose is "kill", I would agree that following this spend, wrap, open, pitch, regret, pay late, way-of-life is doing that. It has nothing to do with Christianity, Christ, or bliss.

I only looked at your web page briefly, but saw the words John Coltrane posted.
Anyone who knows those two words is ahead of the game on bliss, and can easily remove "cynic" from their name.

Whether it is by music, a candle, light, Christ, poetry, belief, serving a neighbor in their true need, enjoying snow with a red maple leaf on it, I suspect that the paths to true bliss are greater than the number of people who have ever lived.

May your path be filled with genuine bliss each day.

blisschick said...

Danny, First, regarding your reference to the incense of a Catholic mass (which I have always loved), thank you for the insight on that. It reminds me of the Quaker idea of "listening for the light." A phrase that I think is wonderful in its ability to confuse us just enough that we might be open to an experience of the divine that our otherwise concrete language can shut us off from.

Yoga for Cynics, Yes, I agree that "divesting" ourselves of "stuff" would definitely be more in keeping with the ideas behind Christmas, though, it is also a celebration and gift giving is one way we celebrate as a culture. There has to be some sort of middle ground here (or "middle way" to use a Buddhist phrase). Perhaps a small gift for our loved one and more giving to those in need?

And Danny, again, thank you for your wisdom. "Religion" is not a four letter word; yes, by some, it is used as a weapon, but that is not religion -- rather it is a deforming of religion, just like the man who beats his wife in the "name of love."

The point is what you said at the end -- that there are probably more paths than there have ever been humans. Exactly. No one path is better or smarter and there are just as many idiots not living their beliefs in a meditation group as there are in any christian church.

Danny Lucas said...

In the news locally:

"Gannon University will commemorate the 40th anniversary of the death of one of the most influential Catholic writers of the 20th century with a four part Advent Lecture Series. The series will focus on Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk, prolific poet, social activist, and acclaimed author on the subject of spirituality. Merton, a Catholic convert, became a pioneer in interreligious dialogue and one of the seminal figures of 20th century American Christianity. The series continues on Dec 7, with a lecture by Mary Anne Rivera, PhD, assistant professor of theology at Gannon, and the director of Gannon’s graduate Pastoral Studies program. Her lecture is titled, “Merton and Jubilee: A Likely Partnership.” The final two lectures in the series and the speakers are: Sunday, Dec 14 – Patrick F O’Connell, PhD, associate professor of English and Theology at Gannon. O’Connell’s lecture is titled, “Awakening in Eden: Thomas Merton and the Return to Paradise.” Sunday, Dec 21 – Bonnie B Thurston, former William F Orr professor of New Testament at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. She also was a founding member and the third president of the International Thomas Merton Society. Her lecture is titled, “Thomas Merton’s Advent ‘Lessons and Carols.’” All four lectures will begin at 7 p.m in room 219 of the University’s Waldron Campus Center, 124 West 7th St. They are FREE and open to the public. For more information, contact O’Connell at (814) 871-5497."
---from Erie PA Today, at this link for more info

Given your post, I thought this may be of interest to you Blisschick.

Merton is deep for most folks to digest. But, it is like running a marathon; after a few miles, you do not feel the exhaustion or pain as you go into a "run" mode.
I like him.

I like the incense smell at church too.

All of the fluttering candles are lit as a continuation of prayer, and grouped to the side of the church.

I don't know which is better; the visual, or the sense of smell.
BOTH are apparent in an Advent wreath when candles are lit.

Some people get affected by the dark time of year with a seasonal effect of mini depression. We get hit heavily by being so far north of the Equator. However, I have been in upper Manitoba, Canada and the sun went down at 10 pm and arose at 2 am. Good for playing football, not sleeping.

These four weeks are a dormant time to reflect inside your soul, and awake refreshed with insight....on yourself.

Bliss away!

blisschick said...

Danny, I think you might be the 3rd person to tell me of the Merton lectures! :) I must need to go. I am particularly interested in the O'Connell lecture -- the subject, though I had him in grad school and know him to be extremely informative. I will try to attend.

I adore Merton and find his writing poetic. I think I've been reading him for about, oh my, close to 20 years on and off? (I just turned 40 so half my life!) Have you come across Thomas Merton: A Book of Hours? A wonderfully edited work that is a great guide for daily prayer.

Danny Lucas said...

Happy Birthday to you
Happy Birthday to you
Happy Birthday dear Blisschick
Happy Birthday toooo youuu.

I missed the Happy day as I am new to these ones and zeros of the internet called Blisschick.

Tho I am familiar with many Merton books, I have not heard of, or read, the daily reading you mention.
I employ three other daily reading books (plus a Bible) and have enjoyed them for years. A change is not in the winds as they are a delight and a tradition.

Of the three, the most inspiring is W. Glyn Evans and his "Daily With The King" book. You only buy it once and reread the day each year thereafter. And it is worth the read over and over.

I tried to get it for gifts and found it in Lancaster Bookstore. Usually, old copies are available cheap at Amazon or Alibris. Powell Books in Portland is a great source of almost any book too.

In October, Evans writes on God's Tear Bottle...and how and why he collects and counts each of our tears. When I first read it, ironically I received shortly after, a 3" high rainbow covered bottle with a looks like an "I Dream of Jeanie" type bottle only small. On those occasions tears fall (joy or grief), I tend to take the top off the bottle and leave it open all day, to assist any collection by Him symbolically. Afterwards, it is recorked until needed again, followed by a quick read of the October story by Evans.
Get a copy.
I will try to find the Merton book as well.

Forty - 40 - is a magnificent year.
You are in for a surprise.

Major Biblical events surround 40.
Noah had rains for 40 days and 40 nights.

Moses wandered the desert 40 years.

God seems to have a thing for 40, and by the time you reach 41, you will experience the truth of this from Him as well.

Ask anyone over 40 if that was their favorite birthday and you will be astonished at the agreement. Everything in life that comes before that age is just a prelude.
You are in for a great year!

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