At the turn of the new year the church offers scenes of chaos: portents and signs in the heavens, broiling clouds, floods, hail, fire.Who may abide the Day of his coming; and who can stand when he appears?For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers soap. (Malachi 3:2)Watch therefore – for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning – lest he come suddenly and find you asleep.And what I say to you I say to all: Watch. (Mark 13:35-7)
The Church gives these apocalyptic warnings as a gift, to shake away complacency, to shock into second sight, to awake to the immediacy of salvation wrapped in breathtaking clouds of doom.
The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken,And then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory. (Mark 13:24-26) His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire. Mt 3:12
This threshing floor is the place of separation which begins the “hero’s journey” and the threshold of the soul’s sacred adventure.The soul’s journey begins in apocalypse. Cataclysm dims the safe filters of ordinary sight to heighten the view of Reality.Shock, fear, grief, courage, and then, perhaps, curiosity, opens the door to the mystical life.
Commentary & Notes: Advent I
The Mystical Life That journey that parallels the life of Jesus of Nazareth in which Christians pilgrimage each year through the liturgical cycle of the seasons: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent and Holy Week, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost.For each of these seasons, the liturgical church offers scripture, images, song cycles, and even sensuous signs in color and choreography and ritual, of ways of being in relationship to God.The seasons parallel the life of the disciples with Jesus, but also describe the Christian mystical journey into union with God through the modes of conversion, purgation, illumination, dark nights, and union.
The mystical cycle: Evelyn Underhill, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, P. Marie-Eugene, O.C.D., A. Poulain S.J.
General:Joseph Campbell’sThe Hero With A Thousand Faces.
Threshold:The esoteric significance of the threshold relates to its position in the passage from the external (profane) to the internal (sacred) state.… To stand at the threshold is to indicate one’s readiness to obey the rules by which the place is governed. …To stand at the threshold is also to place oneself under the protection of the master of the house, be he God, grandee or peasant. Crossing the threshold requires a degree of bodily purgation and purity of mind and soul, symbolized, for example, by the removal of one’s shoes before entering a mosque or a Japanese house. The threshold is the borderline of the holy and participation in the transcendence of the centre.The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols, Jean Chevalier and Alain Gheerbrant, trans. John Buchanan-Brown.
The Christian year begins in late fall with warnings of the impending apocalypse. This chaotic upheaval reflected in its scripture readings in turn reflects the chaos of the individual soul in personal cataclysm. Just as individual prayer often begins in facing illness, death, change, tragedy, fires, and floods, the Christian year calls for conversion in the context of the end of the whole world, when the threat of apocalypse awakens the most radical call to prayer.
Perhaps every prayer in its essence is a cry uttered at the end of the world. Perhaps the end of the world bears every prayer ever murmured. Prayer occurs both inside and outside time. This summer?s fire in California is the fire waiting the work of the winnowing fork. (Mt 3:12) The flood to come this winter is Noah?s flood. (Mt. 24:37, Gen.6:5-8).
Observing the sky at the onset of winter, I am almost afraid I have seen something I should not have seen. In blood-red sunsets and clouds lit with fiery wrath and beauty I have seen a rare secret something terrible and beautiful. The end of time threatens upon the horizon, coming upon the cloud, but soon this vision closes in the dark cloud of winter. Soon the (dangerous) rains will come.
During the rest of the time, during the other seasons, prayer does not seem so urgent. Still, I practice this prayer in Advent for that end time, that last crucial breath. I want to learn to pray so that my last moment might be prayer and not a hollow gasp. When I pray for God to rend the heavens and come down (Isaiah 64:1), when the skies open for the last time and the Son of man comes on clouds from the horizon, I want to look with longing, not fear, toward the horizon.?
Grace's Window, p. 4-5, Suzanne Guthrie.
Advent I Collect
give us grace to cast away the works of darkness,
and put on the armor of light, Romans 13:11-14
in the time of this mortal life
in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility
that in the last day,
when he shall come again in his glorious majesty
to judge both the living and the dead,
we may rise to the life immortal;
through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,