When I was reading the scriptures in preparation for Eucharist, this passage from Micah jumped out at me:
He shall take his place as shepherd
by the strength of the Lord,
by the majestic name of the Lord, his God;
And they shall dwell securely, for now his greatness
shall reach to the ends of the earth:
he shall be peace. (Micah 5:4)
Eight centuries before the birth of Jesus the Christ, Micah proclaimed peace. The Hebrew word shalom has a richness of meaning that is hard to capture in English—health, wholeness, well-being, Micah is promising us total peace when the Christ reigns.
Almost three thousand years after Micah and two thousand years after the birth of Jesus—God-love incarnate, we see anything but peace. Wars and rumors of war. Terror and acts of bloody deadly terrorism. Nation against nation. Brother and sister against brother and sister. “Christian” political candidates threatening to carpet bomb the Middle East until the sands glow. Or, at the least, calling for more boots on the ground. Enough to make us wonder whether Micah and the Christ are for real.
Christ is for real. Advent is all about saying that the Christ lives and reigns among us. Advent promises hope. Why then war and conflict instead of peace and well-being?
The answer to this lies in our hearts. Teresa of Avila understood it:
Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours,
Yours are the eyes through which to look out
Christ’s compassion to the world
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men [sic] now.
The Christ now lives in us, in our hearts, in the very depths of our being but our false selves obscure this magnificent vision of our true selves. We do not get it—God dwells in us. The spark of the Divine dwells in the depths of our being. “Christ lives. Now not I but Christ lives in me.”
Recently Richard Rohr has written a series of reflections on “Spiral Dynamics.” Humans have a built-in drive to spiral to higher consciousness. In level one, we move from survival, to tribalism, to achievement/power, to controlling authoritarianism, to entrepreneurism, to egalitarian consciousness. On level two some people achieve awareness that “we are already one”—to quote Thomas Merton. Basically this entire schema is movement from the survival instincts of the false self to the compassion of the true self.
Micah, the Christ, and Teresa are calling us to go beyond selfishness to compassionate living for others. We find this difficult; however, the call is clear. We are Christ to the world. This makes us very uncomfortable while much of organized religion strives to distort biblical teaching to make us more comfortable. Did your preacher challenge you or comfort you this day? I hope s/he did both.
Shalom grounds us in hesed. Often narrowly interpreted as mercy, hesed means much more—God’s abiding loving kindness, God’s living presence in us. Aware that we abide in Love, we can move beyond survival and selfishness. We can spiral toward love and compassionate living.
The world is a dangerous place because we do not perceive things from a higher perspective. It does not take a genius to conclude that the majority of the people in the world live in a struggle for survival. Economic systems keep them in their place. Until we awake and challenge the systems and structures which breed economic injustice, nothing will change. Our own economic system—capitalism which has its good points—is the root cause of much misery in the world.
Advent calls us—the eyes, ears, hands and feet of the Christ—to awaken to the Gospel call to become more than what we are. Advent calls us to pray, bless, work, and take action to alleviate human suffering. Advent calls upon us to evaluate our lives and action against the biblical imperative to love and compassion. Advent calls us to bless others. Advent calls upon us to place our trust in the promises of the Christ instead of relying on military might. (Our license plates and currency read, “In God we trust” when in all reality we trust our nukes.)
Most people do not realize that the basic tenet of Islam is peace; however, there are events in the life of Muhammed and the Quran that fuel jihadism. Of course, we Christians bear the curse of the crusades when the likes of St. Bernard preached violence. Francis’ Year of Mercy returns us to our root responsibilities as followers of the Christ.
Our cosmology teaches that God is no longer up there and out there. The Cosmic Christ is up there in the sense of up ahead calling us to life and life in abundance, lives of selfless compassion. My prayer can no longer be via petitions to a God up there on his white stallion waiting to come down and rescue us. My prayer now stems from blessing others. In blessing others, we –the Christ living is us—bring peace, shalom, hesed, and compassion to others. (In the past week I have seen dramatic evidence of the power of blessing.) When we strive to live lives of compassion and when we BLESS others, “WE shall dwell securely, for now his greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth: he shall be peace.” We shall be peace, the Peace of Christ.
Shalom. Salaam. Paz. Shantih.