I am presently at my “happy place” – the Jesuit Retreat House in OshKosh, where I am giving a Women’s Advent Retreat weekend on the theme titled above: Embracing the Suffering, Straining Toward the Light. We began with dinner and our opening session last evening and will be here together through lunch on Sunday.
I introduced the theme last night by sharing that when I went to Catholic grade school in the 1960s, the running smart-aleck line in our religion class in fourth or fifth grade was one or another variant of: “If God can do anything, can God make a rock so big even God can’t lift it”? The question was never, of course, intended as a serious question, but it came to my mind as I was reflecting one day about the decisions God made about the entry of Christ in the world. So, dropping the smart-alecky aspect and asking some more serious questions:
Since God can do anything, why didn’t God just have Jesus appear as a full-grown human rather than as a helpless baby? Surely Jesus could have just beamed down and walked into Nazareth one day with his carpenter belt and started gathering folks around him. Instead, God comes as a helpless baby into a precarious situation where he could be killed. Why as a baby?
For that matter: Since God can do anything, why did God wait 42 generations after the entry of sin into the world to send Jesus here to do something about it? Why force the Israelites to go through periods of anguish and longing before Jesus appears? (In the book of Habakkuk the people cry out “How long, O Lord? I cry for help….Why do you gaze on the faithless in silence?”) Why so long a wait?
For that matter: Since God can do anything, why did God create us with the capacity to sin in the first place? He could have created us such that we were not capable of making bad decisions and we could all be living blissful lives in the Garden of Eden. Instead, like Paul, we have times when we lament, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate at do.”
Since God created the world ex nihilo – out of nothing – presumably God could have created it in any darn way God pleased. I tend to work under the assumption that God does not do things for no reason. That there is a reason God created us and the world the way he did.
I shared with the retreatants several conclusions I draw from the fact that God created us with the capacity to sin, waited 43 generations for Jesus to appear and had him come as a baby:
First that darkness is an inherent part of our lives. That, despite our tendency to run away from darkness, we are meant to learn something from it. In a real sense, not just during Advent, but for the entirety of our human existence, we live in a state of both darkness and light. And I don’t think we can accept the light without also making peace with the darkness. (If we were in Lent rather than Advent, we would be reminding ourselves: There is no resurrection without the cross.)
The second conclusion I shared, is that God thought we could learn something from this darkness that is an inherent part of our human lives. That our full union with God – coming on the other side of a life of darkness and light – would mean more than it would have if we had never had the opportunity to experience the darkness.
Advent offers us a wonderful opportunity to explore these themes, to reflect on the ways in which we are called to both embrace the darkness and strain toward the light. Our retreatants are doing that this weekend. I hope you find some opportunity during these days to do the same.