Sunday, November 29, 2015

Advent Sunday

And so we begin again, end again, collapse time and space into a single point that lasts for the four weeks of Advent.

Nothing could be further from the orgiastic celebrations of consumerism and overindulgence that lead up to Christmas these days. One promising note this year is that so-called Black Friday was a complete flop as far as the high street shops were concerned—the chaotic and horrifying scenes from last year were not repeated in the UK. Even if the shopping went ahead online, there is something positive in people’s rejection of the sort of degrading behaviour that went on last year.

This morning I went to the Eucharist at St Benet’s. It wasn’t just the foul weather that made me reluctant to walk all the way to Christ Church. Rather, it was a longing for the inherent silence that is the heart of the energy that animates Benedictine liturgy, and that, it is devoutly to be wished, should animate every Eucharist, no matter how joyous and celebratory.

Advent is the night office within the night office, as it were. There is the long liturgical arc that begins with All Saints day on November 1, and ends with Purification on February 2 that lights us through the darkness of winter. But within that arc is another: the four eschatological weeks that end with the coming of the light after the solstice. The solstice used to fall on St Lucy’s day, but with the change in calendar from the Julian to the Gregorian, beginning in the 16th century, St Lucy arrives ten or eleven days earlier than the solstice, and Christmas comes hard on its heels.

In Scandinavia—in addition to its famous celebrations of St Lucy—there is a lovely custom of having lighted candles attached to windows during the darkest days of the year. To walk down the street of a strange city far to the north where the nights begin to draw in as early as mid-afternoon is to experience a quiet sense of welcome from those  one will never otherwise meet.

Light and silence: may these be ours this Advent and Christmastide.

*          *          *

Some words of Rowan Williams (thank you, Matthew):

Our problem in prayer is 99 times out of 100 it is not the absence of God but the absence of me. I am anywhere and everywhere but here. God, as it were, sits patiently in my here while I’m there.
George Herbert – ‘God is more there than thou’
St Augustine – ‘We have a home that does not fall down when we are away.’

Contemplation is less an activity we get better at – we never get better at prayer – it’s a place we are invited to which is always there.


Blogger Claus said...

Lucia-tradition in Finland:

6:22 am, November 30, 2015  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Maggie,
Can one become "better" at contemplation as one's attentiveness sharpens?

1:24 am, December 02, 2015  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

There is no 'better' or 'worse' in contemplation. It is what it is. Contemplation entails the progressive loss of self-consciousness, so trying to evaluate keeps one away from contemplation. As does its cousin expectation. In the event, our self-conscious minds can't know what's going on in the deep mind, what God is doing there. Evaluation and expectation are the worst enemies of contemplation.

8:17 am, December 02, 2015  
Anonymous Al said...

I think the next project for me is to see the connection between silence and social justice. Anyone worth reading on this area?

5:21 am, December 03, 2015  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Al,
Simone Weil may have something to contribute to the topic of social justice and silence. Interesting idea for a project.

2:09 am, December 05, 2015  
Blogger filip said...

Hi Maggie
Sorry to use this comment space to ask a question on your work on silence. As a doctoral student (Durham) I am interested in looking into the preacher as 'first listener'. I was wondering when vol. 2 of the User's Guide will be available. Thanks for your insightful work!

8:41 pm, December 07, 2015  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

I wish I knew when vol 2 was going to be ready. I'm working on it, but it's a hard slog at the moment. Sorry.

8:56 pm, December 07, 2015  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Al!

It seems to me that the connection between silence and social justice is "the work of silence". Contemplation is passing beyond self-ness (me-ness) however briefly and this, repeated over and over and over results in a diminished sense of self-ness. Not just in importance, its very existence slips. I don't know how else to say it. Practice means a change in my point of view and it is "away from" the me focus. When this is noticed I think it is then that a truly justified social act is possible. There are many life lived examples of this.

11:22 pm, December 07, 2015  
Anonymous Al said...

Thanks Maggie for this short but insightful feedback. I'm into the social sciences also and critical theory but the challenge in these areas is always turning Promethean, leaving behind rituals and metaphors. But i will explore further the connection.

8:57 am, December 08, 2015  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beverly Lanzetta's "Radical Wisdon: A Feminist Mystical Theology" might be of interest to people re links between contemplation and action

4:29 pm, December 08, 2015  
Anonymous Ian Duncan said...

Looking forward to your still small voice of calm

9:01 pm, July 17, 2016  
Blogger Joel Watson said...

I have wanted, and indeed tried many many times, to write you ever since reading your "Silence." But do not have words. Your permission to simply "Behold" has so changed me that it is difficult to even speak of what my heart begs to say. Bless you. I have purchased most of the books and authors you quoted in "Silence" and they seem to be old friends from my lengthy past. (You are an expensive 'date' here in the States!). O Joy! O Delight! What Darkness? You are constantly, constally in my "prayers." Bless you. Joel

3:07 pm, December 11, 2016  

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