Advent, like the seasons of the natural year, has its own texture. It takes its texture from the season of winter. In the darkness of dreary wintry days, the sun shines fewer hours and does not provide enough heat to ward off wintry chills.
Winter represents a season when we, like many folk s/heroes, plunge into the dark abyss sometimes called hades or hell. Odysseus had to go into the nether world on his return home. Enter the myth of Persephone. Persephone, the daughter of Demeter and Zeus is abducted by Hades, god of the Underworld. She then reigns as the Queen of the Underworld. Hermes rescues her but she must return each year to Hades:
Even so, Zeus loved his daughter too much to send her back to Hades without the hope of returning to her mother’s abode above. So, each spring Persephone comes back with the flowers that pave her way, to tell the story of rebirth, hope and harmony. And each fall when she leaves again for the Underworld below, her mother mourns and winter comes, while she waits for her return. Yet, for Persephone there is no remorse. She looks forward to the time she spends as Hades’ Queen and wife, and to guiding those who have lost their way to the next phase of their life. (http://www.mythicarts.com/writing/Persephone.html)
This is the archetypical story of death and rebirth. Though we often gloss over it, we, in the creed, profess that the Christ descended into hell before coming to new life. This is our story. We descend into the depths of our false self only to arise to new life in our true self. True self is the self aligned with God as we evolve into higher consciousness.
Higher consciousness is nothing more than being here now. We do not dwell in the past or the future. The only place we can be is here now.
Cynthia Bourgeault is leading an Advent retreat online. She is focusing on the saying of the Desert Fathers and Mothers as they give us wisdom for Advent:
Abba Moses asked Abba Silvanus, “Can a man lay a new foundation every day?” The old man replied, “If he works hard, he can lay a new foundation at every moment.” Advent hope is about laying a new foundation for our lives at every moment. God speaks to us in the brightness or darkness of our current experience. The Cosmic Christ is ever beckoning us to come to new life, higher levels of consciousness. The hippy gurus used to say, “Be here now.” Kind of trite but so true. Where else can we really be?
Our attention can be diverted to many other places—the Christmas mall, the bread and circus sporting event, thrills of technology. We have to work hard to be here now amid so many distractions.
Jeremiah makes it clear. God will rescue us and justice shall reign but we must first attune ourselves to the message. What are the implications of my present situation as far as justice is concerned? Pope Francis calls us to mercy. What are the implications of my present situation as far as mercy is concerned?
Advent also has another texture. Hope. Amid, domestic terror at Planned Parenthood clinics and ISIS terror in Paris, we plunge into the darkness of the world and our own souls. We grieve, mourn and lament our loss as Demeter mourned the loss of Persephone. Then, we remember God’s assurance throughout the scriptures that all will be well.
Our task is to be here now. Our work is to let the Cosmic Christ lift us to new expectations, to new hope. We know spring will come in its own due time as we co-create a new world. Christine Valters Paintner states it best, we are called to “wakefulness in the face of life’s difficult challenges.” But, first, we have to descend. We have to enter the darkness. We have to embrace it in lament. We have to do our own inner work. Like Job, we may even have to shout out against God. Jesus cried out in lament on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He then descended into the depths of “hades” and emerged as The Christ.
I was working on this before church. The rector, Bill Breedlove, began his sermon with Charles Dickens:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.(Tale of Two Cities)
That is what Advent hope is all about. The descent into the worst of times is tough but work through it we must. Lamentation is not an instantaneous cure. It requires patience. The root word “patior” means to suffer through. Richard Rohr knows that we must learn to live with paradox such as Dickens describes.