I want to be clear, that I wrote this essay assuming nearly most of my listeners are in the “listen to the science” category.
I, and most of the people who listen to my music, are not the church goers who think the pandemic is a conspiracy created to threaten the freedom of religion.
I wrote the essay for those of us who are honouring the recommendations suggested by our scientists and doctors.
In our case, we may run the risk of losing our whimsy and wonder, even if only because we’re trying to show we are not the church-goers breaking the shut-down rules.
I’m sad that so many church people where I live are thinking they are being persecuted, when in point of fact, it looks like they’re really trying to be more special.
The essay isn’t necessarily for them. I don’t know what to do about them, other than to lovingly hold their privilege close to the fire of real compassion.
My reflection is meant for those of us who might default to cynicism at this time. And in doing so, a very unique Advent, could be wasted.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been hinging much of my ability to endure the fog that seems to be hovering over the world, on the fact that Advent was around the corner. This year, not only do our kids have typical calendars, but we also have a very detailed journey we’re going to be going on, with readings and crafts. Actually... 3 rituals per day, including incorporating more than usual, into our candle lighting before bedtime.
I’m not a "crafty" mom. And I’m not a type-A person (I’m sure most of you have figured that out by now). But I have definitely hyped the lead-up to Advent with my kids this year, to the point where Advent itself feels like Christmas. They went to bed with such excitement that they told me their hearts felt “infinity big”.
Then one of our kids was looking at a book about animals this morning, and he called for me to come and see... he said... "Mom! Come here!!! Look!!! Even the animals and sea creatures in my book are saying 'Happy Advent'!"
Oh my dear child, may you hold onto that seeing!
Last night, we watched Mary Poppins Returns, and at one point, when nearly everyone is floating around in the sky, joyfully holding onto a balloon, Angela Lansbury's character says to Mary Poppins, "most of the grown-ups will have forgotten about this by morning".
It is a strange time out there right now. As we navigate what 'post-truth' means. As we see people on the boiled down battlefield of science vs conspiracy.
Part of why many of us can't both look at science, cosmology, expanding concepts and theories, while also not being the "grown-ups who've forgotten by morning", is because we're STILL stuck in a this or that mindset. Maybe part of the reason there has been this mutation, this violence done to the precious realm of suspension of disbelief, (ie. ugly, often racist, lies, being deemed "what is true for me", a hijacking of those "speaking their truth" to a "centralized enforced truth" from the margins), is because the whole set-up has long been aimed at "forgetting about this by morning". For good reason, in part. If we could only eradicate with science, the out for blood and hellfire, petulant God, who gaslights, and needs appeasement, then maybe we have a chance at being free. That's pretty fair. But the new priesthood soon marched in, and a new mighty "god", still with white supremacy at the helm (built right in to the roots of evolution, and even conservation), moved in.
Don't get me wrong. I am deeply, deeply grateful for science, and am not trying to debunk the work of science with this essay.
But I still wonder... will whimsy and wonder make it through this horrifically conflated, one-dimensional binary of "science vs conspiracy"?
Let me explain...
The Shaman held a posture of lateral prayer, a "praying with" the whole of the animated creation, drawing from not only his or her incarnate power, but from the web of incarnation found within each and every thing, which makes up a remarkable Whole. It would not shock me at all to hear that Jesus was that kind of practitioner. One who could pray to the creator, not just "above", but who could see that "God's center is everywhere, and circumference is nowhere."
So let's be honest. Science traditionally has had no room for the Shaman. And... let's be honest, enlightenment-influenced science has played a dramatic role in all of us "forgetting by morning"... and is in part, responsible for the colonization of indigenous seeing. It doesn't have to be that way, but it has often been that way, nonetheless.
Now it seems neither "side" has room for a lateral comprehension of incarnation... and seeing anything outside of this binary, has been described as "voodoo" more recently by the left, than by the right. It seems that this is a shared derogatory term from both the enlightened left, and the religious right.
Voodou has an incredible history. It is a mix of African indigenous beliefs, Irish and Scottish druidic/Celtic Christian beliefs, and the indigenous beliefs of the Caribbean Basin region. Its rituals are remarkable, and in some aspects, not unlike the Sufi or Pentecostals very much embodying "trance dance", a form of healing dance that every single one of us has in our ancestry.
This is obviously not a treatise for not wearing a mask (by any means). Nor is it a treatise for not believing science. But it is some food for thought, for all of us who are being respectful, keeping our distance, not gathering, and wearing masks, to be very careful to remain vigilant, on behalf of our child-like ability, to believe in the Mystery of what we cannot see.
To guard the whimsy of our hearts, which is where the longing lives.
As Merton said, "with God, a little bit of longing goes a long way."
In other words, what does it look like to listen to the science, AND believe in silly things... like the incarnation? Perhaps, for starters, it is that the Christ in me, sees the Christ in you... and I love you, and don't want to bring harm to you. That is at least for starters. But maybe we can ponder this more deeply throughout Advent.
Clearly the world has been aching for living ritual for a very long time now. Since well before Covid. And living ritual was certainly in part, squelched by the enlightenment era, which still informs much of the sciences. So again, how do we hold all of this more expansively?
Living ritual is best done when… gathered. But here we are… entering into the great swelling tide of the hope of Advent, in little bubbles of one, two, three, or a few more. So this is the raw material we have to work with. And if that raw material does not encounter the place in us that longs, we are in for some pretty major collective despair. (Which is why I'm risking writing this.)
For the bubbles of one. I wish for you, embrace. Wide, encircling, relieving, embrace. May you feel the very arms of the Creator around you, any time you stop and visit a tree, any time you stop to taste something wonderful, or even from the blankets that cover your body as you sleep. (In order for you to "get there", you must not "forget about this by morning".)
For the bubbles of two. I wish for you, laughter. May the potential binary of two, not get stuck at stalemate. May laughter and a bit of lightness lift you from the rut, and charm the moments of your days. (In order to get there, you must "move into the larger mind" - metanoia - which also requires not "forgetting about this by morning".)
For the bubbles of three or more. I wish for you a balance of encounter, and space. I wish for you the ability to catch the moments of your children's built-in awareness. Because they still don't forget by morning.
And in practical terms... to the mom’s who just want to pee in peace, I wish for you that chance today.
For the blended families, and all their misunderstandings, and all the impossible things, I wish for you a fresh wind that might blow into the cobwebs, and transform old patterns and assumptions. Any hope of transformation requires an element of "magical thinking".
For the children who are feeling like Covid is how its going to be from now on. I wish for you total embodiment, and life, and wonder, the world over.
And finally, may we who are struggling a bit in our bubbles, reach out and touch the world somehow, as she struggles from still more undertow, while the tidal wave of a new era continues to swell. Innovative action, hearing a "call" to shift the reality of even one person, also requires the capacity for "not forgetting about this by morning".
May we reach out, and give big, if we are able. And find ways to move out of our own center, even if we are not able give in the traditional sense.
The suffering (Yemen, South Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Chad, so many who are hungry in wealthy countries that spend upwards of 700 billion per year on weapons, and on, and on…) continues to decimate my heart. I have to let it all go through me, and let my ache join in the “one great Ache”, or I will be comatose in short order. A funny little balance to strike... because "comatose" means "to be in a deep state of unconsciousness"... so that means when my little ache carries the load of of the great Ache, my little consciousness renders me unconscious. But when I let it flow into the big Ache, I can awaken to what is mine to do for the sake of the Whole. This paralysis and fragility is particularly apparent in spaces of comfort where hyper-individual salvation and success, and a lack of imagination, has wreaked enormous havoc on our planet.
From the depths of all our tender places,
O come, O come Emmanuel,
to and through this collective womb,
and out of our deep-down longing…
Richard Rohr says, “the second coming of Christ is not one event, it is the rest of history”.
May we be open to this unfoldment, and this anointing, in new ways during the Advent of 2020.
It certainly isn’t business as usual… but then again… neither was it for Mary.
The song today comes from the Meditation With Children album I did with Irish author Noel Keating. This version of Hope Beyond all Hope, begins with quotations from some children's own experience sitting in meditation. When you listen, notice how they are naturally aware of the Presence.
Our hope beyond all hope did come
To call us each, and everyone
To the surface of our consciousness
God dwells within, and always has
God dwells within, and always will
This week's Sunday Song and Rumination is my "hymn to compost", May Life Live On.
Franciscan and evolutionary academic, Ilia Delio recently wrote a couple of brilliant pieces in response to the sexual abuse cases coming out again in the Catholic church. Her angle is first naming the horror and tragedy and then, that we need to look at this in terms of the dominant worldview that has shaped clerical hierarchy in the first place.
And through that lens, lest the Catholics be the only ones getting the bad rap, as someone whose formative years were predominantly shaped by the protestant world view, I can see how what shaped clerical hierarchy transferred very cleverly into marriage, post reformation. This protestant version of the beast perhaps doesn't prey on altar boys, but it simply morphed in many cases (obviously not all, but neither are priests predators across the board), into entitlement toward one's wife, prostitute, secretary, keyboard playing worship leader, or all of the above.
In one of Ilia's pieces entitled DEATH IN THE CHURCH: IS NEW LIFE AHEAD?, she says:
"Science has greatly shifted our understanding of nature including human nature, biological nature, and physical nature so that every aspect of theological doctrine must be reevaluated in light of evolution and modern physics. Every seminary curriculum should include Big Bang cosmology, evolution, quantum physics, neuroscience, depth psychology, and systems thinking. Incorporating science into seminary education will not preclude abusers but over time the formation of new structural systems that are more consonant with nature as cooperative interdependent systems might allow for greater transparency, interdependency, and accountability."
If we back up even further out of this clerical/male priest hierarchy and the corresponding male pastor hierarchy, we can see so easily then, why we treat all of life the way we do. We separated matter from spirit philosophically and theologically, and we separated science from spirit, and when we do that, there is no end to objectification. The great poet Wendell Berry said in his brilliant essay Christianity and the Survival of Creation, that "the culpability of Christianity in the destruction of the natural world, and the uselessness of Christianity to any effort to correct that destruction, are now established cliches of the conservation movement."
As I look at the way humans and the planet are expressing themselves at this time, I believe earth elders like Joanna Macy when she says (and has been saying for so many years), that we are living in the time of the Great Turning (some have called it the ecological revolution). Joanna observes that first there was the agricultural revolution, then there was the industrial revolution... and now we are at the point where we must turn from an "industrial growth" model toward a "sustaining society" model. But we can't do that if we are still in this "upward" hierarchy that Ilia Delio talks about, vs the new "forward" model she is recommending.
Joanna Macy says of the industrial revolution, "from the systems point of view, it is a doomed political economy, it is a doomed system on runaway, because it is seeking to maximize one part of it, and once you do that with any system, everything goes out of balance."
As a person who has somehow found new life in following Jesus, (through my own very proud, but not very happy theological roof being utterly blown off), I am interested in how whole systems function with/by a certain level of cacophony that allows for more life to thrive, vs the monoculture model we still find ourselves in. The church especially, whether Catholic or Protestant, really has some growing to do ecologically, neurologically, gastronomically, philosophically, spiritually, artistically, culturally and yes... theologically. Because of the "closed system" that Ilia Delio speaks about, theology has become the belligerent, entitled uncle at the Christmas dinner, unable to dialogue unless it is on Uncle Theology's terms. Without the open system, that accepts that change is a part of the picture, we will continue to be a part of the entire problem... including (maybe even especially...) the problem of climate change.
Carl Jung's beautiful way of describing this kind of good growth, the "forward" (generative, future-centric) growth, vs a cancerous, "upward", "bigger is better" (who cares about tomorrow's children) growth, really catches what needs to happen: "We cannot live the afternoon of life according to the programme of life's morning, for what was great in the morning will be little in the evening and what in the morning was true, at evening will have become a lie."
Spiritual growth (moving into the afternoon and evening of one's spiritual journey) for many Christians, is seen as heresy. What if it is simply outgrowing the paradigm of what worked in the morning?
The song I am sharing today is about becoming a part of evolution through a full embodiment of the Christ, and so to become fully alive in this body. No longer severed from my body, no longer ashamed of my body, but from heart to finger and toe tips, I am incarnate with possibility. And when that happens, something else very extraordinary follows: you realize that Christ really does "play in ten thousand places" and it isn't just in the poem. And ironically, through this embodiment, you're able to make peace with death, accepting that one day this very incarnate body will decompose, and go back to the earth. And of course, even when the incarnation isn't conscious, because life is like that, the longing is incarnate, and it brings new life.
Wendell Berry, in his 2013 interview with Bill Moyer said: "The world is maintained every day by the same force that created it. It's an article of my faith and belief... that all creatures live by breathing God's breath and participating in God's spirit. And this means that the whole thing is holy... the whole shootin' match. There are no sacred and unsacred places, there are only sacred and desecrated places."
All of my favourite, most wise, trustworthy teachers say to hope. So even though cynicism is the easiest and greatest temptation, let us hope creatively. Let us hope compassionately. That guy I claim to follow said very drastic things like "leave all things and follow me".
What would happen if we dared to do what we don't dare to do?
May life live on. Amen.
Alana Levandoski is a song and chant writer, recording artist and music producer, in the Christian tradition, who lives with her family on a regenerative farm on the Canadian prairies.