Every Valley…

It is hard to believe, but Advent is here. Time flies, it seems.

When I was walking the Camino back in October, I would often sing to myself to get me through. On mornings when the fog was so thick that I could barely see 10 feet in front of me, I would hear in my head: “We walk by faith, and not by sight…” complete with various instrumental accompaniment. And, when climbing or descending steep slopes, several songs of Advent would pop into my head. You can imagine: “Every valley shall be exalted, and every hill made low” type of thoughts.┬áSo, it should be no surprise that I chose an opening song for mass this morning that begins “Let the valleys be raised and the mountains made low.”

Normally, people in my neighborhood [, town, state, country] travel from place to place in motorized vehicles. We travel mostly by car. And, in traveling that way, we lose touch with the ground beneath us. We are no longer acutely aware of hills versus flat areas. We lose consciousness about changing landscape and the energy required to ascend or descend a hill, or walk on uneven ground, cracked sidewalks and paths littered with twigs, leaves, acorns and pecans (or walnuts or chestnuts). We forget just how much easier it can be to travel a smooth, flat road. Boring maybe, but still generally a more gentle ride or walk. Only when we get out of our comfortable space, get on foot or some human powered form of transport, do we begin to be awake to the world around us. And only then can we begin to appreciate the proclamation of valleys being raised and mountains made low so that our God has an open, direct way to approach us.

While walking the Camino there was a space to open up and feel the road. There was a way to be grounded in the present simply because my feet were definitely grounded on the road that I walked. I was awake and aware of the world of my present moment and I could journey more easily than usual, letting the past and the future fade as I concentrated on the present. I get a lot of that when I run or practice yoga as well, but somehow walking The Way created a special image in me of being present in the current moment. It is an image that I hope to maintain and enhance.

In Advent, we are making a journey to the place where we receive God’s love in the form of a new life — Jesus is born as one of us, with all of the wonder and joy and tears and difficulties that we will face. I hope to walk this Advent rather like the Camino — one step at a time, in the present moment — and to arrive at last at Christmas with a sense of wonder and thanksgiving a bit like the joy (and sorrow and excitement) of arriving in Santiago de Compostela. To stay with the present and simply experience it.


Immaculate Conception

[Note:It’s easy to remember my niece’s birthday as she shares it with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception…]

This a season of Mary as well as of the coming of Jesus. It’s rather like we need to see what came before to get to the gift of the baby Jesus. And so, I’ve been considering the concept of “Immaculate Conception.” I learned early on in my journey into Catholic Christianity that this Immaculate Conception refers to Mary’s beginnings, not to her conceiving Jesus.

Often, it helps to go back to the original language to find a meaning to theological ideas. But, I don’t have a history of terms here, so I fall to considering the English meaning of Conception. Creatures are conceived, but also are ideas conceived. Take the term “concept” – basic concepts underlie projects and belief structures. Mary’s Immaculate Conception – Mary, conceived without sin — that had to be God’s concept. We wouldn’t have thought of it. And so, Mary, who the Catholic Church declares to have been conceived without sin, had to be the result of a concept that was born from God.

As Advent progresses, we move toward the birth of Jesus. What a concept! God becoming one of us in every way except sin. Had to be God’s idea. We would never presume to think this is really something God desired. I suspect that even those sorely broken humans who seem to think they are God carry deep within them a strong doubt that God would really want to be them. They might think they can have God’s power, but, I suspect that they don’t really think God would BE them.

And so, I wrestle with terms like Immaculate Conception and Jesus born of the Virgin Mary. And I look at the word Virgin, free of sexual attachments. I consider the Virgin was a translation and perhaps it refers to a young woman, free, in an of herself, to make the decision to embrace God’s will. The angel Gabriel told her that the Holy Spirit would come upon her. Ah! The source of the concept of Jesus – God incarnate originates from God as the Holy Spirit. And Mary said “Yes.”

The power of Mary’s “yes” and the awesome gift of her allowing God to become human through her knocks me over sometimes. And it reinforces my awe at the site of a new baby, and the power of someone, anyone, everyone saying “yes.”