“Look Up”: When our world ends … a new world of light begins
THE MOMENT OF FEAR AND DESPERATION
Imagine that you are on a ship travelling through the Pacific Ocean, sleeping in your cabin at 4:30 a.m. – then there is a loud blast as a boiler explodes in the engine room below. Six hours later you, with three or four other living beings are on a lifeboat. You are the only survivors of that ship, now sunken. This is the harrowing description at the center of over seven months as a castaway on the high seas in Yann Martel’s book, The Life of Pi.
Similarly, the story of an ocean journey through danger towards rescue is also the subject of Noah’s Ark; also, an ark or ship is a symbol of the church; and again, a ship is also linked to the architectural design of the church, in which the main seating area is called the “Nave” which means boat.
At some moments, like that castaway Pi, we may feel like we too are survivors in a lifeboat with little or nothing left. We don’t know when the whole world will end, but we do all know of times when our personal world ended. We might have lost a child, lost a partner, lost our health, or lost our job. We were scared to death. Indeed, doesn’t fear threaten the whole world at this time?
The month ahead is December, of course. In the northern hemisphere it is the darkest month, and the beginning of winter. At times we may wonder: Are we fading to loneliness, to cold, and to darkness? Often we bring the disaster on ourselves; we are our own greatest enemy: it is as if we are trapped with a tiger, and the tiger is us!
The motif of life as a difficult journey or struggle stretches from the beginning to the end of the scriptures. With the Psalmist, and most people of faith in their grueling journey, we too can cry out, “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul: my God, I put my trust in you” (Psalm 25:1-2).
We don’t have complete choice or control when or how our health, life, or world will unfold or end. Yet can choose our response to situations. In each hour, we can at least turn our attention away from despair and towards hope.
This fits with the ‘struggle’, or ‘journey’ towards hope not only of the castaway Pi, but also of people we remember in the history and Calendar of the Church. You can ‘Google’ them!
Think of St. Paul who came through two stonings, shipwrecks, floggings, imprisonments, and even depression to continue to set forth the Gospel.
Around this time of year, we also remember Clement of Alexandria (210 AD) who struggled to establish in Christian thought and ethics the right use of material goods (rather than their renunciation).
Nicholas of Damascus (760 AD) struggled towards the hope of embracing the positive use of the human form in the art and icons in the Christian church. This had a tremendous impact upon art throughout the world.
Francis Xavier (d. 1552 AD) struggled towards the hope of an effective mission to the Far East.
Similarly, each of us in our lives and journey, at home, in our personal life, in minimizing our use of fossil fuels, and in our work or calling all engage with a struggle to set forth the Good News.
THE ABIDING HOPE AND EXPECTATION
Everyone struggles in this life. During this Advent we may be dealing with some very difficult realities. Like the castaway Pi, we may have to release some things–or all things.
Yet every ending gives way to a new beginning. We may actively expect the Advent (coming) of a new beginning. We have to learn new things, not simply cling to the past. We can look up, and lift up our heads. We never give up on the hope and expectation of God’s rule. In a bolt of lightning, in the unfurling of a flower, in the unfolding of history, we can sense, see, and perceive the coming of God’s rule. We will see it certainly, at the end of our personal lives, in the Christian hope of the resurrection. Then again, we will see the consummation of God’s rule at the conclusion of human history on earth.
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus said that due to surrounding disaster, “People will faint from fear… but look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Lk 21:28). Then he told them “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life.”
As in The Life of Pi, perhaps for all people there is a struggle, a journey, and a deep profound search. The word of Jesus to all of us, on our journey is this: Don’t give in to desperate fear or paralyzed boredom! Look up! Lift up your head! Look and work towards your redemption which is drawing close! Or, as Nike says, “Just do it!”
THE SEASON OF ADVENT
God describes the approaching redemption in Jeremiah 33:14-16: “I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.”
In the history of the Exodus and on many other occasions, we have seen God fulfill the divine promises. We can trust in God to fulfill this promise too: to bring the final redemption, with justice and righteousness everywhere.
The Life of Pi concludes with a triumphant scene, the very mirror of the result of what Jesus calls us to do, to “Look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
Stand up, look up, trust in God, and work forward. We focus on the light. That attitude will bring us through disaster to triumph, and it will lead to our rescue. It is what the season of Advent is all about.
Concluding prayer (The Collect 🙂
Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.