Advent Reflections: Vigilance (Week 4)
[A]dvent Series from Urban Skye Project
(Luke 2:21-35) Thin Places are found along the journey A series of religious activities reveal a devout young couple doing precisely what their law prescribed: circumcision, naming, purification, presentation, offering. Enjoying the beauty of their tradition, they are interrupted by a strange old man wanting to hold their baby. Any mother would tighten her grip. Gnarled hands reach for their child and, sensing something larger going on, she relents and hands over Jesus. Other old men and women stop to witness this and there is amazement on their faces. What’s the old man saying? Simeon was a fixture at the Temple in Jerusalem for as long as anyone could remember. He personified a faithful and expectant Israel. Messianic expectations were not unified, but they all had in common a Deliverer that would free the people from oppression. He said the Holy Spirit revealed to him that he would not die before seeing this Deliverer. This began his journey long, long ago and he had faithfully kept the vigil, a devotional watching that centered his daily life. What a journey it must have been to come to the Temple every day in anticipation. How many babies did he approach over the years? Every newborn brought for circumcision would have captured his imagination. He blessed them all, of course, and probably unnerved more than a few mothers. And, though all these newborns were precious in the sight of God, none of them was The One. Until today. No wonder his first words were: nunc dimittis God, you can now release your servant; release me in peace as you promised. With my own eyes I've seen your salvation; it's now out in the open for everyone to see! (see Luke 2:28-30) His journey ended, his longing fulfilled, he could speak well-rehearsed words not only back to God, but to the mother of the child. With prayerful years of honing this message, Simeon looks deep into the eyes of Mary and tells her what she must hear: pain is part of the Good News. He spoke as a human agent of the Holy Spirit with words that were to launch another journey. He blessed the couple and said to the mother: This child marks both the failure and the recovery of many in Israel, A figure misunderstood and contradicted – the pain of a sword thrust through you – But the rejection will force honesty, as God reveals who they really are. (see Luke 2:33-35) The Celtic Way: Peregrinatio Without leaving the Temple, Simeon’s life was still a journey; this would have been no surprise to the Celts. They understood “journey” as a central motif for the spiritual life. This led to the coining of pereginatio, a nearly untranslatable word meaning “a journey without oars”. Celtic saints like Columbanus launched a missionary movement of peregrini, who would literally climb into a coracle (boat) without oars and ride wherever the current and the Holy Spirit would take them. Wherever they ran aground they were vigilant to bless all whom they encountered. Cultivate your Thin Place This final week of Advent, whether you travel or stay home, consider yourself a peregrini, a pilgrim on a journey in which Advent plays a part. The focus is not only on arrival but on the journey itself. Like the ancient Celts, can you let go of where the journey may take you? Find one hour to be a true peregrini. Choose a geography for a starting place (nature, city, museum, even a mall) and be a boat without oars. Wander as you like or feel led and see what catches your attention. Be open to the Spirit’s guidance (the Celtic symbol for the Holy Spirit was not the quiet, cooing dove but the raucous, untamed wild goose). Be conscious of others you meet on your wanderings; be sure to look them in the eye and be willing to engage them in conversation. Maybe they have something you need to hear! All journeys begin with a sense of a quest or calling. For Simeon, it was to see the Anointed One. If you look at your life as a journey, can you discern any driving themes? Try to put words to them. How did this sense of life direction or calling come about? Have you had any Simeon-like words offered to you? Have you found in your quest a sword as well as peace? This will be rich journal and conversation fodder. The Celtic tradition reminds us of the importance of images and beauty to help us experience the nearness of God. During these final days before The Feast of The Nativity, search online or in a museum for nativity art. In peregrinatio fashion, simply allow images to move you or cause you to look at the story in a new way. Reflect on the image and try to understand why this particular one speaks to you - you’ll find it reflects your journey. Allow this prayer of protection to be part of your week and, perhaps, to accompany you further on your journey. It comes from the Carmina Gadelica, a collection of songs, prayers, and blessings, from the oral tradition of the western Highlands and islands, of Scotland: The guarding of the God of life be upon me, The guarding of loving Christ be upon me, The guarding of the Holy Spirit be upon me, Each step of the way, To aid me and enfold me, Each day and night of my life. Amen.
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