In Advent we journey in the dark towards the light of Christ. Today we hear from Kit who shares his thoughts on what that means.
Thomas Merton and the one in whom all things cohere
Thomas Merton died 52 years ago on Thursday. One of the most important Roman Catholic voices of the mid twentieth century he wrote and spoke extensively about the relationship between personal spirituality and working socially and politically for justice and peace.
He argued that personal prayer and spirituality were subversive. That if we seriously engage in prayer it will take us down into our deepest, inner selves where we will connect with God, but also find ourselves face to face with the darkest parts of our own selves, the deeply hidden wounds and the anger, resentment, pain, guilt and shame that go along with those wounds, and the unhelpful ways those negative feelings contaminate our dealings with other people and the world. Merton knew that it is in deep engagement with God in the depths of ourselves that we find healing and forgiveness, become our true selves, deepen and extend our relationship with God and with other people and the wider world. At first, we can only glimpse this but gradually find and become our true selves and that changes us and changes the whole way in which we see and engage with the world around us. So he was able to say that to become a holy person a saint was to simply to become ourselves, our true selves. And he realised that if we fail to engage with that inner journey of what Christians have called spiritual growth, healing and forgiveness then we inflict our wounds and hurt on the people around us and undermine and damage even the best things we try to do.
If we do go on that spiritual journey and begin to see ourselves and others and the world differently, that brings us into conflict with the ways of the world, we become subversive, in the way that Jesus was subversive, challenging the conventions, challenging religious leaders, challenging his disciples who so often misunderstood him and were baffled and confused by what he said and did most of the time!
Jesus then is a supreme example of a true self, at one with himself and at one with God and at one with the whole universe. That is why the writer of the letter to the Colossians (Ch 1;13-20) deliberately uses the most extraordinary, overblown and exalted language to describe Jesus – claiming not only that Jesus has rescued us from darkness and released us from sin, but that Jesus is the image of the invisible God, that in him everything has been created and that absolutely everything is held together in him.
This is the Jesus we prepare to meet again every year as we journey through Advent and look forward to the coming of this one true self who invites us to go on a journey of discipleship with him, so that we can find healing and release from our damaged and damaging selves and become our true selves, seeing the world and living in the world from a different perspective, a perspective grounded in that inner experience of healing and oneness: unity with God, the universe and other people.
As you approach the Castle of Mey on the north coast, you see a fairly typical 16th century Scottish castle, built on land originally belonging to the Bishop of Caithness. To the right of the front door of the main building is another door way through which you can see, as in a picture frame, the Pentland Firth, south of the Orkney Islands, scene of the most turbulent tidal races in the world. At ebb tide at the Merry Men of Mey, a tidal race just to the north of the picture, the water can pour out of the North Sea into the North Atlantic at the rate of some 30 kilometres an hour. Then across the water at Scapa Flow is the location of the scuttling of 74 ships of the German Navy’s High Seas fleet at the end of the First World War. The idyllic calm and serenity of a particular day last year when the photograph was taken, belies both the agitation and turmoil of the sea when the weather is perverse but also the particular history of the first world war, with its tragic and senseless loss of life. A time indeed when life itself seemed to have lost any meaning.
The season of Advent, which we have just begun, essentially focuses on Hope, our hope for the coming of God’s kingdom, and God’s hope for the redemption of humankind.
Hope was the last thing in the myth of Pandora’s box, the hope that all the evil in the world will ultimately be overcome. And it is true that desperately we look for the first shoots of a promise for better times, and the good news at least is that we have been made with a faculty to believe that hope can be grounded in reality. Something to work for. This has been amply proved this taxing year by the hope for a vaccine, by our trust in the scientists who know what they are doing and their confidence that they are on the right track. Our part, of course, is to trust them even when some facets of social media seems dead set in persuading us not to do so.
Similarly the Advent Hope requires of us to trust in the message of Jesus Christ, to believe in the power of his resurrection and the confidence in ourselves to deliver on it.
As we continue in our Advent Journeys, we begin to think about how God still speaks to us today.
During Advent some of you have kindly shared your own thoughts, meditations and moments and we offer these as part of our journey together.
Today we hear from Laura who shares with us her journey through the Jesse Tree.
Here is this week’s service.
As we journey on through Advent we think of many whom we have journeyed with…those who are no longer with us and whom we miss. Rev Norma Higgott, Chaplain at The Highland Hospice, reflects on those journeys of remembering and of the journey of hope we can all take to heart this Christmas.
Suggested Reading Exodus 3 v 1-14
As we journey on through Advent and indeed as we journey on through this pandemic, I wonder if you are feeling weary? It has been a hard year for us all as we have had to come to grips with the reality of Covid-19 and constantly adapt to the changing regulations. Everyday tasks can seem an uphill struggle-be it working from home, battling with wearing a face mask, constantly sanitising hands, watching over those who are most vulnerable-and often unable to support them as we would wish.
A man who understood what it was like to be constantly adapting and journeying in uncertainty was Moses. From the bulrushes to an Egyptian palace, from privileged position to fugitive, from shepherd to leader of a nation, from slavery to freedom, from close encounters with God to wandering in the wilderness, from the hope of entering a promised land, to only seeing it from afar.
Moses’ dramatic encounter with God at the burning bush set him on his long journey of faith-through all its ups and downs. Have you had similar dramatic encounters with God in your journey? Sometimes looking back and seeing how God has sustained us can be a real encouragement when we are weary and burdened.