by Julia Ryberg
The liturgical year is not observed among Quakers. In my parents’ childhood homes, neither Christmas nor Easter were celebrated. All days are holy days and all of life is sacramental. My mother, however, promised herself that this would change when she had a family! So, I have celebrated Christmas all my life, though observing a reasonable measure of Quaker simplicity. Not until I came to Sweden as a young adult in 1975 did I become acquainted with all of these church holidays. My children seemed to be off school quite often due to some holiday that had to do with Jesus. And it not was not until the 1990s, when I became better acquainted with the Church of Sweden, that I gained more insight into the liturgical year. Nowadays I accept – metaphorically! – the message of Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter. They mean something to me in my life with God, and I acknowledge them any time during the year, when the inner life calls for it. The actual time of Advent is not very important to me, even though the traditional Swedish Advent candleholder is a must in my home.
This year, however, the time of Advent feels especially important. Jesus has namely ridden straight into my work room on his donkey, disturbed my e-mail correspondence and poked his nose into my next year’s work plan. In his entourage was the American theologian Marcus Borg, who recently visited Stockholm, with his prophetic teaching about the Kingdom of God (God’s dream for the world, where justice and compassion reign). Borg had liberating interpretations of the word mercy (where God is compassionate rather than judging, and humankind is more in need of clear sight and homecoming than forgiveness) and of the word righteousness (where God’s justice has to do with right sharing of resources). In his entourage was also the spectacle of the American election (and its hopeful outcome!), the horrific events in Gaza and Israel, new reports on climate change, a pregnant woman’s death in Ireland – denied an abortion that would have saved her life. He has ridden in during my lamentation over illness and death in my family and among friends, over flagrant and more refined acts of violence. He calls out words that will echo in the church on the first Sunday of Advent: It is now the time for you to wake from sleep. I came into the world to testify to the truth. Let us put on the armour of light. We are weaponless but stronger than the powers of the world. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.
Well, welcome in! But help me manage my sense of paralyzing powerlessness and littleness, my frustration and wrath over violence and apathy, my longing to contribute in a reasonable way. I have been given some guidance.
1) I have begun to understand that the distressing sense of powerlessness is one of the so-called thin places that Borg speaks of – where the inner life meets the outer, where we sense God in the midst of our everyday lives, where are hearts are opened and transformed into instruments for the Kingdom of God.
2) I will ensure that the Kingdom perspective is explicit in all of my work – from retreat planning to tomorrow’s meeting with church youth who are interested in learning about the odd little Society of Friends.
3) I have sent a letter of encouragement and challenge to Barack Obama. He may never read it, but it was good for me to write.
May we remain awake and testify to truth in the face of violence and suffering both close to home and far away. May we be armed with weaponless strength to do whatever we are able. May we hear the voice and open the door – celebrate God’s arrival in our lives – all the year round. May this be a year of justice and compassion.
This article was originally published at Dagens Seglora in Swedish. Thanks to Julia for permission to republish on Nayler and for the translation.