At this time of year, Catholic sites are generally be gentle and meditative, wreathed in evergreen and violet candles. (Did you see what I did there? 🙂 )
I’m not feeling that this year. Advent is normally a big thing in my household, but this year I’m giving myself a pass on some of our traditions. It’s just not where we are right now. I told my spiritual group yesterday that this year, I’m writing a book and learning how to live with a celiac diagnosis for my child, and that’s quite enough mental/spiritual wrestling for me this Advent.
But what I AM doing this Advent is pondering the tension that is intrinsic to life in the faith.
The kingdom of God is now, here, in the person of Jesus, but also unfolding in real time, and never to be fully realized in this world.
We are to accept authority—but at the same time, questioning and wrestling is the only way we grow in faith. Without it, we stagnate. Even fester, growing ever more rigid in our binary, simplistic view of the world. Kind of like all those pirates on Davy Jones’ ship in Pirates of the Caribbean—ever more inflexible, until eventually we freeze solid and lose our humanity altogether. In other words, we are called to submit, but also to be prophetic.
We are given, by virtue of our baptism, the power to heal—this is a conversation we had yesterday in my small faith group—and yet I would argue that the chronic conditions of my life are the things that have allowed me to grow.
I think there’s a lesson in all this for me as I begin this discernment surrounding detachment. Because that is the essential question I can’t wrap my brain around—the one I shared here a couple of weeks ago. Godly anger is what fuels us to pursue Godly justice. Yet this seems to stand at odds with the idea of detachment, which would suggest that we remain a step back emotionally, setting aside such passions altogether.
That’s why this graphic caught my attention when it crossed my feed last week. It’s not about religion, but my faith is integral to my view of the world, and that gets expressed through real-world events, i.e. the news. So it resonated on the level of faith for me.
In my last appointment, my counselor and I were grappling with balance, and she said, “I just want to make sure you know that balance means it’s always changing. It’s not the same from day to day.”
She was right, of course; I’ve known this for a long time in my family life—that one or another of my responsibilities takes precedence at any given time, and it’s constantly shifting. We tend to think of balance as a static thing: a beam BALANCED on a point. But that only works if all the factors acting on it are static. As the forces of my life act upon me, I have to adjust constantly. I do it automatically on a bicycle. Or walking. Or when a small child runs and tackles me while I’m sitting in the middle of the floor.
But somehow when it comes to the bigger things, the spiritual life, I have this fantasy that there’s some magical island within me that if I can just find it, I’ll never have to adjust again.
But the reality of the “now-and-not-yet” dynamic is that those two things DO stand at odds. That tension will never be resolved in this life. On one side is the passion to see God’s justice made real in the world: “Thy will be done, they kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven.” We pray for that daily. God’s will for the earth can’t happen if we shrug our shoulders and say, “Oh well, in Heaven all will be well, so I just won’t worry about everything that’s wrong.”
At the same time, the righteous anger that fuels the passion can easily become unhealthy. Crippling. Damaging to the connection to God and neighbor. Detachment is necessary too.
There’s a tension there that can’t be avoided. Neither of the extremes contains the whole truth. The truth comes in the balance between them.
But finding it… that’s the thing I’m beginning to grapple with now.