Thursday, December 15, 2005

Casting Down Strongholds: A Conclusion

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
- 2 Corinthians 10:4-5

In the desert prepare the way for Yahweh; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken."
- Isaiah 40:3-5
So what did all of that have to do with Advent? Advent isn't just preparation to celebrate the Feast of the Incarnation, but a time of heightened preparation for the "King who is to come." We always await the return of Christ in glory (like it says in the Creed!) at which point he will bring to completion the salvation of the world, the Church, and each of us as individuals.

We remind ourselves of the words of the John the Baptist: "Prepare the way for the Lord! Make his paths straight and clear!" In the passage from Isaiah that John would quote, we are offered a picture of Yahweh filling in valleys and leveling in mountains, as if he were clearing a path for himself on the earth as he makes his way to Jerusalem.

We might compare it to cleaning up the sitting room in anticipation of a friend's visit. We don't want our friend to have to push shirts of the chair to sit down or kick laundry out of the way as he walks in, after all (like my friends often have, sadly!).

This is kind of what we do in the season of Advent. We have our eyes on the Incarnation of the Lord in the midst of history some twenty centuries ago, and we focus our thoughts on "The End," that moment when history as we know it will end, and the King will finally arrive to put everything to rights. In this, we also set ourselves to the task of showing him hospitality in the lives we live now, finding ways to let Jesus into the darkest places of our lives of our hearts and minds.

Speaking of cliches, I never liked the language of "complete surrender to God," or found it really practical or salutary. What I do find helpful is asking, "what are the dark places, the rough and hidden paths of my heart, specifically, that Jesus asks to walk down?" In prayer and confession, in the context of our Community life, we welcome him upon those pathways, into the secret corridors. We choose to be no longer alone in those places.

We ask ourselves, then, what are the practical and practice-able ways that we can invite the healing and revealing light of Christ into the dark places? One of my ways has been to strengthen my committment to praying the Liturgy of the Hours and the practice of centering prayer. What about you? (A. has some words about prayer, too.)

As I said at the beginning of the little series, I have long been concerned that these clichés we use serve to clutter up the paths of God's grace and healing into our lives. Answering personal problems with clichés (e.g., "let go and let God," "just trust God," et al.) breaks down the trust we are called to place in God and one another. Reducing the truth of our lives in Christ to soundbites (like the ones on which I've focused these articles) impoverishes our understanding of the Christian story, and hinders the growth of what we were given in baptism.

(Mind you, these are not always "mere soundbites," and are not always used to impoverish our understanding and teaching of the faith - we've discussed this in the comments, particularly here. You might also want to read Paul Fromont's good thoughts on listening.)

But ultimately, we need to remember what Isaiah sets up for us: we are summoned to make a path for our God. At the same time, this is something he himself does, on a scale that we cannot. As we do our part in welcoming him, he moves toward us, breaking down the obstacles that we cannot, and shining light into all of the dark places that we cannot face ourselves.


Anonymous said...

I like that perspective on Advent. Prepare the way. I am going to be looking for those obstacles the balance of the season. Very helpful.

How about the cliche "Try God". I worked with a guy in retail who saw that on a Christmas ornament and commented "Isn't God already trying hard enough?"

I have begun using the Benecdictine Daily Prayer/ Short Breviary with good results. I am a proponent of keeping the prayer life fresh by mixing things up regularly, a tip from Fulton Sheen. Even if I pray something like the Breviary indefinitely I can try changing where I pray it, sing it, pray it alone or with others.

Anonymous said...

Are you saying that you don't believe in surrendering totally to God? Do you think Praying the Liturgy of the Hours is going to earn salvation and that people who don't do it are going to hell? I could turn around and ask you these questions, but this is more fun!

Kyle said...


Thanks, Tom. I like the "Try God" bit.