The Advent season, a time when it seems our collective heart opens ever so reluctantly and at times, regrettably, all too briefly to the vision of a different way of being, began for me last week.
For the last dozen years or so I have often been privileged to join in on a multi-family tradition that goes back some two decades. The venue has changed several times and some faces around the table have too.
The light of candles held up on the outstretched arms of carved wooded folk figures from Sweden glowed over the table. The array of dishes filled every space leaving room only for the conversation flowing around them. Katisse talked of starting school in January down in New Zealand, which sparked Pauline to recall tales of her travels there. Perrin told of the challenges of a new job. Conviviality filled our souls as the turkey and stuffing did the same to our stomachs.
The heart of our time together occurred after the table had been cleared. As we settled in to more comfortable chairs Joan opened a book to the well-thumbed pages of a story by Selma Lagerlof, The Legend of the Christmas Rose. Lagerlof, the first woman and Swede to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, drew on the folk traditions of her land to pen a story of simple faith, miraculous transformation and forgiveness.
Set in 12th century Sweden Joan began to read us the tale. “Robber Mother, who lived in Robber’s Cave in the Goinge Forest, went down to the village one day on a begging tour.” The retelling a familiar tale centred the room on her calm, clear voice. Images of a dark, cold, snowy forest brought gloriously alive on Christmas night pointed us again to the simple truths about what is of real value in life. All too often these are obscured by our acceptance of the false promises of the system we have heartily embraced.
Notions of a biblical Eden where peace and the fullness of life prevail seem very remote in our despoiled and threatened world. Possibly the leaders gathered in Copenhagen will again give us nothing more than hollow promises. The great institutions and seemingly monolithic states of the world, tied down by a myriad of competing interests, can seem impossible to move. But we can change. Our redemption and that of creation around us rests in our hands as much as theirs.
Most cultures have stories that inspire hope. Mexicans honour Our Lady of Guadalupe tomorrow, December 12th. Demoralized after the brutal war of conquest of the Aztec nation by the Spanish conquistadors in 1522 the Nahuatl people needed a new guiding vision to lead them forward.
In December, 1531 Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin was told by a young woman in a vision to build a church in her honour. Recognizing her as the Virgin Mary, Juan Diego followed her instructions to gather flowers from the top of Tepeyac Hill to convince a hesitant bishop. Though he knew no flowers bloomed there in the winter, Juan Diego went and found Castilian roses.
The Goinge forest also blossomed in winter. “The glory now nearing was such that the heart wanted to stop beating; the eyes wept without one’s knowing it; the soul longed to soar away to the Eternal.” Do we have a vision of the kind of world we wish to leave to our children’s children? What stops us from taking the first needed steps to realize that hoped for world?
Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Saturday, December 12 – Hanukkah, the eight-day Jewish Festival of Lights, begins. It commemorates the Maccabean recapture and re-dedication in Second century b.c.e. of the Temple in Jerusalem.
Saturday, December 12 – The Virgin of Guadalupe appears in 1531 at the Mexican site where the Nahuatl people previously honoured, the venerable mother, Tonantzin.
Sunday, December 13 – Third Sunday of Advent. A suggested reading is Luke 3:10-18.
Wednesday, December 16 – Las Posadas Navidenas, the Hispanic Christian tradition, begins with the recreation of the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem in preparation for the birth of Jesus.
Friday, December 18 – Hijra marks the emigration of the Islamic prophet Muhammad and his followers to Medina in 622 c.e.
Friday, December 18 – International Migrants Day calls on nations to ensure the full protection of migrants.