Saturday, November 26, 2011

Trying to reconcile the irreconcilable

It's almost impossible to find rest for my soul during all the unrest in Egypt. Yesterday I heard that at least eleven people were killed in Syria. But I have never been to Syria. Now that I've been to Egypt, it feels almost like I've met the 39 killed this week as the police shot at protesters.

This is what I call Thanksgiving weekend, the weekend expats fit in a turkey dinner on one day or other, depending on when they have time. Thursday we were invited to an American/German family's home, where we had turkey and all the trimmings. My son Jon, in Seoul, Korea now, will be celebrating Thanksgiving tomorrow (Sunday) with other Americans and Koreans at the English-language Protestant church in Seoul. Yesterday (Friday), just an hour after I began writing this, friends came to feast and express gratitude for the good that has come our way this year.

This weekend is also the beginning of Advent. The rest of Germany has long been anticipating Christmas, no matter what they believe about Jesus. Christmas products started appearing in the shops in September. When I did my usual Thanksgiving shopping at the market after teaching on Wednesday, the fruit and vegetable area was crowded into one corner, taken over by the Christmas market, which was in full swing, several days before the first of Advent, which is tomorrow. Thursday, I went to the flower shop to buy flowers to give our American friend, as is the custom here when you're invited for dinner. Most of the arrangements included four Advent candles. Almost all the bouquets were various shades of red and had red, white, gold or silver ornaments. All except for one lone bouquet in Thanksgiving colors of yellow, orange and white.

But one is all that was needed. I'm wondering if that isn't the message for this time. In the confusion in my mind muddled up with Egypt, American Thanksgiving and the advent of Advent, there is a place of quiet, of focus. That's what I need to remember.

As I prepared stuffing, green bean and sweet potato casseroles yesterday, I listened to one of my favorite CDs - "The Mask and the Mirror", by Loreena McKennitt. This CD speaks to me especially right now because Ms. McKennitt made this CD following a visit to Morocco, another Muslim country. Many of the songs here reflect her wonderment over the dazzling culture she encountered. They also reflect her yearning for harmony, a reconciliation of these various cultures and religions. She sings an Irish ballad full of Celtic mythology, and follows with a song she composed to a text by St. John of the Cross. Introducing her CD, she quotes a text by Idries Shah about the Sufis: "A common sufi may come dressed as a merchant, a lawyer, a housewife, be in the world, but not of it, free from ambition, greed, intellectual pride, blind obedience to custom, or awe of persons higher in rank..." And she likens this mentality to the Celtic Druids. It sounds an awful lot like Jesus to me, who told his followers to be "in the world but not of it".

I listened to her sing the words of St. John of the Cross. She sings, "Oh night, thou was my guide, oh night, more loving than the rising sun - oh night, that joined the lover to the beloved one, transforming each of them into the other."

This is nighttime. We are in the night of the year. What's happening in Egypt is very dark.

I sat in the dark yesterday, thinking, meditating, trying to pray about Egypt, thinking about prayer itself, about Thanksgiving, about Jesus, whom we are celebrating this month. How to reconcile it all? Can it be done? I like to think of Loreena McKennitt and myself as kindred spirits, because we both have hearts of reconciliation. I often find myself desperately wanting to bring the seemingly most impossible of things together.

As I sat in the dark, I prayed, "Speak to me about this, God." One of the thoughts that came was the realization that I have been created with a yearning to bring all the parts together. God made me this way, so it must be a good thing. Doesn't God also have a heart to bring impossible things together? I think so. Realizing this, I knew how to pray. I can't pray that all of Egypt will come to peace, or that everyone will suddenly love one another, because that doesn't seem to be in the hearts of so many of them. I could be wrong, but that isn't the sense of what I read in the newspapers or see on TV. But - I can lift these people up in my heart. My inner hands can hold this land up to God, offering my own longing for hearts that want to listen more than shout, and pray for more of this. I can pray for people who want to understand, for people who want to listen with their hearts to what the other side is crying. I can pray that this need grows in the hearts of more and more people. I can pray for this to happen in people from the military as well as the other side, in Copts as well as Islamists, intellectuals as well as farmers, liberals as well as fundamentalists.

What is prayer? I see one of its aspects as visualizing what not yet exists. Of course, that only includes the good that God also intends. I understand this to be things like love, understanding, trust, goodwill, gratitude and forgiveness. And so, I visualize an atmosphere in Egypt where this can occur, holding it up to God at the same time, asking God to correct or expand upon my view. But we aren't meant to stop here, I believe. Not only are we to pray for the things that the very best in us longs for, but to live for that end ourselves. We are meant to join our own energy to God's, to bring that about. I, the lover of God, want to be joined to my Beloved One, who does have the power to change things. I can't do much in Egypt to bring about peace, but I can live a life of understanding and goodwill here.

Some of our guests yesterday don't believe in a personal God. I practiced goodwill by listening to their explanations of what is going on in the world, why they think people still fight and kill one another, and what they believe we need to do. I don't agree, and they know this, but I practiced what I prayed by attempting to live the same way I prayed people would be able to live in Egypt.

They say one candle burns much more brightly in a dark room than on a sunny day. One candle is sufficient to provide light in a dark room. One Thanksgiving bouquet in twenty Christmasy ones was enough to bring joy to my hostess on Thursday. I believe that my prayers and those of one or two of you who read this can also make a difference in Egypt - and Syria - and at home, wherever you are.

Happy Thanksgiving weekend! Happy Advent!

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