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Posts Tagged ‘Anarchy: The East India Company’

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Advent:  Not Just for Winter

“It is the hour now for you to wake from sleep.”  (Romans 13: 11)

Every now and again it hits me that the liturgical calendar was made to order for people living in the Northern Hemisphere.  Easter and the resurrection of Jesus align rather nicely with the flourish of new life in springtime.  Advent by contrast gets its oomph from the approach of winter and the longest nights of the year.

Now disconnect those experiences for people living in the Southern Hemisphere and you appreciate the challenge.  How do Australians digest Advent readings that evoke dark days and deep sleep as they’re driving off to the beach for a day in the sun?  I honestly don’t know how they do that, and were it not so far away I’d be willing to go and find out for myself.  But then I’d miss out on the idyllic Advent weather that we have in Minnesota.

3A22527F-F91D-47D4-814E-FA2615F7E295It’s nice that the climate can reinforce the readings of Advent for those of us living in the northern half of the planet.  However, the word of God was meant for people of all ages, living in all sorts of climates, and spread across an array of geographies.  So it is that we cannot relegate to the summertime Isaiah’s invitation to “walk in the light of the Lord” (Is 2:5).  And when Jesus urges his disciples to “stay awake” in Matthew 24: 42 he’s not talking about the urge to nap on a long winter’s day.  No, in both cases the passages encourage readers to get a grip on their lives and make the most of each and every opportunity to live in the light of the Lord — all the year round.

Without pushing it too far, Advent is much more than a segment in the march of the liturgical calendar.  Advent is a not-so-subtle reminder that we can drift away from the Lord in virtually any season or on any day of the week.  It can happen over the course of half a lifetime or in the space of a few minutes on a summer afternoon.  When that does occur we’ve given up on an anchor that can give stability and meaning.  Absent that meaning we wonder about the direction of our lives.  In the process we shut our eyes to those unique chance encounters with Christ.

So what are we to do in response to the call to be alert — always?  Well, first of all it involves a leap of faith.  It also includes an awareness of the principles by which we choose to live.  Are there ideals for which we strive?  Are there boundaries over which we will not step?  These are the qualities that make us noble in the master plan of God, and this is the fruit of the self-awareness to which Jesus invites us.

Of equal importance is the need to be opportunistic.  By that I don’t mean that we take advantage of others every chance we get.  No, this opportunism looks for the encounter with God at every turn.  It requires we be alert not just for a few minutes or for a day, but for all of Advent if necessary.  The good news of the gospel is that the Lord won’t keep us waiting for very long.  Quite possibly around every corner and on the other side of every door we’ll see the face of Christ.

49DF0273-3432-4830-A43E-ED663312B5D9NOTES

+In my first year at Saint John’s the first snow of the winter arrived on Thanksgiving Day.  Ever since then I’ve thought of Thanksgiving as the official start of winter, though I also accept that winter reserves the right to show up whenever it wants.  This year’s first big snow came a few days earlier, and the snows are here for the long haul.  Now every trip by car requires extra time to brush and scrape off the snow.

+While we enjoyed the winter landscape over Thanksgiving in the monastery, the University’s football team flew off to Orange County, CA, where I presume there was no snow.  There it won its playoff game against Chapman University.  By coincidence I spoke at Chapman last year, and it happens to own a copy of the Heritage Edition of The Saint John’s Bible.

+Over Thanksgiving I finished a book that took me a while to get through, and which I found fascinating.  William Dalrymple is a prolific author, with an interest in India.  Several years ago we read in the monastery refectory his book From the Holy Mountain: A Journey in the Shadow of Byzantium, and we enjoyed it.  I read a review of his newest book in the Wall Street Journal, got it, and then spent weeks of spare time getting through it.  The Anarchy:  The East India Company, Corporate Violence, and the Pillage of an Empire, details the history of the East India Company.  It’s the story of a corporation that conquered a rich empire, systematically looted it, and left it impoverished.  Appalled by the atrocities, the British government nationalized the company in the 19th century, and so began the British Raj in India.  Dalrymple’s work is a good read, though the flood of unfamiliar Mughal and Indian names left me dizzy now and again.

+At the top of today’s post is a photo of the Advent wreath in the abbey church, and below that is the view we monks see as we process from the cloister into the church for prayer.  The Annunciation (ca. 1490) is by the French artist Jean Hey, and is housed at the Art Institute in Chicago.  Like so much of religious art of the time, the artist made no attempt to portray the scene as it may have looked in the 1st century, and as a result such renditions are often replete with wonderful historical anachronisms.  In this case, Mary prays from a book, even though the artist knew good and well that Jewish sacred texts were scrolls.  Even more curious is the painting of her son Jesus that Mary has hanging over her bed.  Artistically it makes the important statement that Mary’s life points to Jesus.  Please click on the photo for a closer look.  Finally, at bottom is a view into the courtyard of the east cloister walk of the abbey church.  Winter is here to stay.

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