Although Advent doesn’t begin until Sunday, yesterday was the first gathering of the Advent Retreat in Daily Living at UST Law School. We began by each person sharing a little about their understanding of Advent. I then offered a short reflection about the meaning of Advent and talked about the prayer materials for this first week of prayer.
I began by talking about the story of creation, which helps us understand what we are waiting for in Advent and why.
Our Scriptures open with the story of creation – In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. God then created and light and separated it from the darkness. Then God separated the water from dry land. God then brought forth vegetation and then living creatures on the land and in the sea and in the sky. And then “God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female – he created them. God blessed them.”
Out of chaos, God creates an orderly universe. The opening lines of Genesis highlight the goodness of creation and God’s desire that human beings share in that goodness.
But something happens to disrupt what God intended. Genesis 2 offers a myth to explain that reality – the story of Adam and Eve eating the apple at the instigation of the serpent. Some people believe the account in Chapter 2 is a literal account. But it is not all the important whether one believes it or not. What is important is the reality the story is designed to convey. Joseph Tetlow, in his contemporary rendition of the prayer exercise in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius dealing with what Ignatius calls the Sin of Adam and Eve puts it this way:
I think about this. Even though I may believe that God brought humankind onto the face of the earth through evolution, I have to believe that at some point in time and on some spot on the globe, the earliest humans came into life. They grew intellectually aware of right and wrong, and some among them – the church has always believed it was the very first – chose to do evil. They abused what was given them. They chose to use what was forbidden by their own consciences. They decided willfully to make their own value system instead of letting the Spirit of God instruct them. From that sin came others, more and more. From that sin came death. So, from this earliest sin came flooding down all the misery, wretchedness, evildoing, and death-dealing in the world.
It is not about an apple. Or a serpant. And it doesn’t really matter whether it was a woman or a man. The point is Sin entered the world. And from that first entry of sin into the world, more sin came. And we see the effects of that all around us. Violence. War. Famine. Pollution. Racial and ethnic strife. You see the effect everywhere.
I asked the participants to imagine the heart of God seeing all of this. Seeing much more than we see – we see only a limited piece. God sees all of it – past, present and future – in a single image all of the time. What does that do to the heart of God? To contemplate the goodness of what he created and see this. To see in a single moment: Auschwitz, the sacking of Constantinople, the bombing of Hiroshima, early Christians being fed to the lions in Rome, slavery, child prostitution, the effects of drug abuse. And we can go on and on. God looks out at what he created – what he termed good – and beholds all of that.
The first meditation I inivited participants to pray with this week asks us to imagine just that. The meditation is that which begins the Second week of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. Ignatius asks us to “look at all the people of the earth” – the different ethnic, racial and religious groups, some in families, some alone, some young, some old. And to watch God watching all of thie. Then he asks us to see the realities of the world around us – the reality of sin. AND to imagine God looking down on it. To see what it does to the heart of the Trinity to “look down upon the whole surface of the earth, and behold all nations in great blindness, going down to death and descending into heal.” He wants us to feel the Trinity’s love for humanity and their pain at our suffering. And to listen to the thought of the Trinity: This is what we’ll do. We’ll become human and show them the way. It is a powerful meditation.
After that, I talked about the remaining prayer material for the week. Having neglected to check the recorder before I started speaking, I didn’t notice that it was low enough on battery that it stopped recording three minutes into my talk. So I have no podcast of the talk to post this week. However, you can find a copy of the first week of prayer material here.