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  • Writer's pictureThe Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples

December 6, 2020 | Message from Dr. Benton


What good is it to me if Mary gave birth to the son of God and I don’t give birth to the son of God in my person and my time and my culture? – Meister Eckhart Today is the second Sunday in Advent…the time of waiting…of anticipation of the coming of Christmas…the birth of Jesus. Advent is a tradition that I shared with my children and now with my grandchildren. We have a wreath with the candles representing Hope, Faith, Joy and Peace, lit each week before Christmas. We also have an advent calendar that includes a small “treat” each day of December until the 24th. This is a nice symbol of the time of waiting…of watching…of preparing for this birth…the birth of Jesus and, as Meister Eckhart points out, the birth of the Cosmic Christ in our own lives…individual and communal. This Advent we are being given an opportunity, if we are fortunate enough, to wait and watch for both internal and external signs of life…of change and of hope for what Joanna Macy calls “The Great Turning”. Macy is much more optimistic than I am. She states that we are already well on our way to this change…this necessary transformation. I hope she is right. But hope or no hope, I think we all know that we are living on borrowed time. Although we have been distracted for the past four years (at least) by a president so obviously horrendous, we have been in trouble for a long time. In his book, Creating a World That Works For All, Sharif Abdullah wrote in 1999 about the “mess” we are in. He created a list of 50 of our current problems. As far as I can tell, none of these has been overcome and many have gotten worse. Abdullah says that it is our awareness of these problems and our inability to change our day-to-day behaviors that has lead to a kind of “soul starvation” and “emptiness” that he calls “spiritual starvation”. He says that the key symptoms of this “disease” are: anger and violence, escapist behavior, denial and numbing, and control and manipulation. Reading this list was like reading a summary of the issues my clients report on a regular basis. The list is also reflected in our social and political systems. They are symptoms of a “hunger of the heart” that is trying to be fed. We do not know how to feed the hunger of the heart in the context of this “mess” we are in. Instead, we try to leave it behind, cover it up or annihilate it. This time of quarantine…of shelter-in-place…and of Advent could be our chance to truly come to terms with our actual birthright…the right to love and be loved…the capacity to absorb the love in our surroundings and in our own being so that we are no longer starving. We have the chance to remember that we are indeed connected to others, even if we are quarantined in our homes. We are connected with the human and the animal world…the plant world, the air and the water, the sun and the stars and the moon. The knowledge and the internalization of this knowledge is what will save us. Albert Einstein wrote:

A human being is part of the whole, called by us “universe”, a part limited in time and space. She experiences herself, her thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest – a kind of delusion of her consciousness. This delusion is a prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and for affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.

This is the task…to be open to the widening of our circle of compassion and concern, while being open to the power of the all-pervading presence in all its glory. In this opening lies the answer to our ability to participate in that “turning” that Joanna Macy and indeed Sharif Abdullah is referring to. It is a welcoming of the spirit that embraces us when we are alone…evidence of the “well that does not run dry”. For our meditation today, let us listen to the following piece of music. While we listen, may we ready ourselves for this coming…the coming of the God within….

This recording makes it obvious that there is a sort of mystery to this coming…to this anticipation of the birth. It is the birth of the will and the courage to change our ways. It is the birth of the awareness of the joy and pain, the creativity and transformation that is required of us for this change. The source of this awareness is not far to seek. It is one of our first experiences after our own birth…the profound separation from the security of the womb. It is the beginning of a journey toward wholeness…toward union…toward oneness with our mother and then oneness with our creator. It is an internal awareness that spurs us on. Thurman writes of this mysterious “stirring” in the soul…

There is a long straight line from the stirring of the heart of the child in response to the love of the mother to the stirring at the core of one’s being in response to the love of God. This is the journey.

The journey we are on our whole lives is a journey of the heart…a journey that demands awareness and demands preparation. We are not alone on this journey. We have the support of each other, both current companions, such as those in this community and those teachers who have come before.

One such teacher was Loren Eiseley. Of this journey of the heart…of our responsibility to keep going he writes:

Great minds have always seen it. That is why man has survived his journey this long. When we fail to wish any longer to be otherwise than what we are, we will have ceased to evolve. Evolution has to be lived forward. I say this as one who has stood above the bones of much that has vanished, and at midnight has examined his own face.

Eiseley has “examined his own face” as well as “stood above the bones of much that has vanished”. Of course, since he wrote these words, so much more has vanished. Have we ceased to evolve since then? Have we ceased wishing to be otherwise than we are? Do we have the courage and stamina to live evolution forward rather than trying to escape or give up? I have no real answers, but I know that without stopping what we are doing…without settling into a quiet space of contemplation…of preparation, we will not be ready for this “birth of a new world”. Each morning I awake to a view of this poster…a vision of the Beloved Community. It is an image etched in my mind throughout the day. How do we come to this place? What is necessary for us to birth a “World that Works For All”?

Of course, I don’t know the answers to my questions, but I am working toward the answers. I am trying to live the words of Rainer Maria Rilke who asked us to:

…be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.

The answer, I think, is what will result after our work of the “Great Turning”…the work that will reconnect us to our source with the strength to love and the compassion that encourages us to work for the greater good…not just for our own “little lives”. We do this by connecting with that inner “stirring”, with our fellow companions and with the whole universe. It is this community into which the Cosmic Christ can be birthed…the community steeped in those values of the Advent wreath…hope, faith, joy and peace…the values of a type of “ideal home”…one that we have not yet experienced but that we half-envision, half-remember. In the words of one of my teacher, Starhawk:

We are all longing to go home to some place we have never been — a place half-remembered and half-envisioned we can only catch glimpses of from time to time. Community. Somewhere, there are people to whom we can speak with passion without having the words catch in our throats. Somewhere a circle of hands will open to receive us, eyes will light up as we enter, voices will celebrate with us whenever we come into our own power. Community means strength that joins our strength to do the work that needs to be done. Arms to hold us when we falter. A circle of healing. A circle of friends. Someplace where we can be free.

May we sense this freedom as we listen to our closing music from the Taizé tradition.

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