Fr Martin Pender
The longer I have lived on this earth, the more I have come to realise that peace and justice, both in the world and in ourselves, can only be achieved when we reach a high enough psychic temperature so that the things that still keep us apart can be burnt away. There is a basic principle in chemistry which states that sometimes two elements will simply lie side by side inside a test tube and not unite until sufficient heat is applied so as to bring them to a high enough temperature where unity can take place.
I think this is an excellent metaphor for Advent. Advent is about getting in touch with our longing. It's about letting our yearnings raise our psychic temperatures so that we are pushed to eventually let down our guard, hope in new ways, and risk intimacy.
Saint John of the Cross uses a similar image: intimacy with God and with each other will only take place, he says, when we reach a certain kindling temperature. For too much of our lives, he suggests, we lie around as damp, green logs inside the fire of love, waiting to come to flame but never bursting into flame because of our dampness. Before we can burst into flame, we must first dry out and come to kindling temperature. We do that by first sizzling for a long time in the flames, as does a damp log inside a fire, so as to dry out.
How do we sizzle psychologically and spiritually? For Saint John of the Cross, we do that through the pain of loneliness, restlessness, disquiet, anxiety, frustration, and unrequited desire. In the torment of incompleteness, our psychic temperature rises so that eventually we come to kindling temperature and, there, we finally open ourselves to union in new ways.
That too is an image for Advent.
Advent is all about loneliness, but loneliness is a complex thing. There is a roaming kind of loneliness that haunts the soul and makes us, all too often, too restless to sleep at night and too uncomfortable to be inside our own skins during the day.
And what's the lesson in this? What we learn from loneliness is that we are comprised of more than any one moment in our lives, more than any situation we are in, more than any humiliation we have experienced, more than any rejection we have endured, and more than all the limits within which we find ourselves. Loneliness and longing take us beyond ourselves. How?
It is in our insufficiency that we come to realise that we are more than the limits of our bodies, our present relationships, our jobs, our achievements, and the concrete situations within which we live, work, and die.
Scripture tells us that the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, of simple bodily pleasure, but a coming together in justice, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, that is what we ache for in our loneliness and longing: consummation, oneness, intimacy, completeness, harmony, peace, and justice.
Our loneliness and longing are a hunger and an energy that drive us, always, beyond the present moment. In them, we sense the kingdom of God.
Advent is about longing, about getting in touch with it, about emphasising it, about letting it raise our psychic temperatures, about sizzling as damp green logs inside the fires of intimacy, about sensing the kingdom of God by seeing and through desire, but also by removing the obstacles to intimacy with God and with each other. This is where Jon the Baptist comes in.
2,000 years ago, John the Baptist prepared the people of God who were longing for the One to fulfil their inner longing – the Messiah. But his voice still echoes throughout the world proclaiming that the hunger of the human soul cannot be satisfied unless it is fed by the Bread of blessedness. The wilderness of our lives cannot become fertile land unless it is cultivated by the ploughs of purity. The desert of the heart cannot bloom unless it is watered by the furrows of faith.
The message of Advent is clear – the inner longing of the human heart can only be achieved when we reach a high enough psychic temperature so that the things that still keep us apart can be burnt away. We need to break down our mountains of malevolence, fill in the valleys of vindictiveness, and make low the hills of hypocrisy. Only then will the glory of the Lord be revealed. And that is the longing of our longing, the deepest longing of our heart – to see the face of God, that face which on Christmas Day we will behold, shining through the human face of Jesus.