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Sunday of Advent
"Love was before the light began. When light is over, love shall be." Ramadan pre-dawn prayer.
"You know what hour it is, how it is time now for you to wake from sleep." Romans 13:8
I am at writing seventeen days into a juice fast. I hope to persevere for all of Ramadan.
My prayer has been an intention of spiritual solidarity (an intercession). For Muslim folks in this country so under attack, spiritually and politically. For the people of Afghanistan, beneath the fire and now the cold and deadly bite of hunger. A warfare of the heart against this war-to- rehabilitate-all-wars.
Today, my version of a Ramadan fast crosses over into the yearnings of Advent. The scorching images of the Muslim season (when, as a friend wrote, we can conspicuously "burn down the fascist architecture of our lives") now merges with a more familiar wilderness cry.
Now my early morning prayer is one with the hope of being awake.
Three years ago, our family was lighting the candles of Advent in the wake of a deadly fall: Jeanie had collapsed and been diagnosed with an aggressive GBM tumor. We were in the frenetic travail of a calculated six month prognosis. Shed survived a surgery. And we were resisting radiation and chemo. Negotiating the medical principalities and trying to wrest control of our own treatment back from the cancer industry. Our life, suddenly fragile and tentative, was back lit, dawn gilt, knife cut in its reality. Prayers around the advent lights were not quaint but passionate, seen through tears. Everything about our daily lives was sharp and vividly precious. Every moment was a thanksgiving against the dark. We were wide awake to one another and to the gifts of life.
It is widely testified that many encountered a similar experience following September 11. The collapse of the towering fortress of global economy shook personal foundations. The vulnerability of global systems made people mindful of the fragility of social reality and the preciousness of life itself. People did not say goodbye so lightly. Relationships were mended , time being taken less for granted. Folks were more alive to one another, even excruciatingly so; quicker to say I love you; less rote about it. Awake to reality and the gifts of life.
But over against that, down comes the big sleep. A dull drum beat. The narcotizing and silencing atmosphere of nationalistic patriotism. The presidential calls to get back out there and consume. And, of course, the pounding beat of war again war. All saying: go back to sleep.
This is to say that the spiritual estate of sleep which may be regarded as normalcy, the sleep from which Advent calls us to waken, is induced. It is a spell cast by powers. It is spun by a sleepwalking culture. We know that the addictive mechanisms of our culture (both substance and process addictions - like violence and consuming) are deadening to pain and memory and finally to life itself. To be awake is to resist the frenetic spell of warmaking, patriotism, and consumption.
Lets be awake dear friends.
This war will be ongoing. The fall of Kandahar will not mark its end. The way is being prepared for new assaults on Iraq. It now looks like the US is ready to back the Israelis in the destruction of the Palestinian Authority and any hope of an independent state. The number of nations regarded by the US as having some form of terrorist activity is large. The blank check is signed, but not even dated. We are heading into a dark time; we need to be awake and aware.
Meanwhile, as cold and hunger begin to take the lives of Afghani children, we hear that relief agencies have sufficient supplies on the ground to meet the immediate need, but are prevented from delivering them by banditry in the social chaos which the war has created. A multilateral peacekeeping force offered and led by our European partners to protect the shipments has been vetoed by the United States which wants sole military control of the region. The much touted military humanitarianism of the wars early days, has apparently exhausted its purpose as a public relations sound bite. We are headed into a dark winter and need to be awake and aware in our intercessions.
At home, the Arab and Moslem communities are under surveillance, threat, and assault. They are the simply the first and visible victims of a national security state now on the horizon. Authorizing legislation is unmaking the constraints under which extra-constitutional authorities like the CIA, NSA, and FBI have been forced to labor in recent decades. A dark time is at hand and we will need to be awake.
Further tax shifts and capital shifts now being undertaken in the name of economic stimulation will likely, within the coming year, create a new and deeper crisis for poor and working people. These folks will be lining up (if not rising up) on the streets and at our church doors. Another cry for wakefulness.
When darkness comes, love is still there for those awake to it.
In point of fact, this is going to be a really interesting time for people doing the work of justice and non-violence, for people committed to the work of personal and social transformation, for people doing movement work. In the odd logic possessed of the gospel, it may even be an exciting time.
Already the spirit can be seen on the move, preparing the way.
Let us be awake, dear friends. Let us watch and be ready.
Bill Wylie-Kellermann works for the Seminary Consortium on Urban Pastoral Education (SCUPE) in Chicago.