2nd Sunday Advent –
Today is the feast of St. John of the Cross, a marvelous saint and doctor of the church. His form of mystical prayer seems to have more in common with those in the apophatic way. That is, he walked the path of refusing any image of God. As such, he differed dramatically from St. Ignatius of Loyola who embraced the religious imagination as a vehicle for encounter. To every image, John said, “Nada! It is nothing. It is chaff.”
John reformed the Carmelites in the late 16th century with his new friend, St. Theresa of Avila. His companions would hear nothing the stricter rule John sought to impose. Like all good religious communities, then, they put him in the local ecclesiastical prison.
And it was in prison that John’s spirit came alive during that time in deeper mystical prayer, profound poetry, and a quality of understanding the spiritual life. His creativity soared. Thus, being humbled, he became exalted.
Given that, let us consider the Greek word, tapeinoo, “to subdue, bring low, humble” and what it tells us about our lives from last Sunday’s gospel.
Luke 3:5f Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”
Luke 14:9–11 and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Luke 18:13f But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
The point is: All the stuff we avoid during Advent (the so-called Christmas season) – smallness, insufficiency, emptiness, sorrow, dashed expectations – is “that place” we don’t want to go and we do everything in our power to stay the hell away from it.
When the veneer cracks, the loss becomes too strong, when we are humiliated, don’t we end up in something like the prison of fear, resentment, and sorrow. Often for a long time.
What would it look like for this ‘ecclesiastical prison’ to become a place of encounter, of creative expansiveness prompted by solitude and the Spirit of God?
It may look like ‘fasting’ from the drivenness of the frenzy of daily life now in these United States. What would happen if any of us took time to sit within the prison of our fears and resentments? What the joys and sorrows of life?
Perhaps the Spirit of God would speak into that night the words of Isaiah, “Prepare in the wilderness a highway for our God. Every valley shall be filled in. Every mountain and hill be made low…” And we would be tempted to believe it.