Advent Reflection: The meeting place

Reprinted from The Common Good, no. 28, Advent 2003

Where do we encounter the Christ child today? Many centuries ago, before modern language, mystic Meister Eckart made the following statement:

‘What good is it to me if Mary is full of grace and if I am not full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son, if I do not also give birth to him in my own time and my own culture?

Last century, Carl Jung and Teilhard de Chardin echoed his sentiments: ‘The conscious psyche of each person becomes the divine cradle, the womb, the sacred vase in which the deity itself will be locked in, carried, and born.’ (Jung)

Much closer to home, in this troubled year of 2003, we have our own prophet – calling us to embrace more fully the same eternal truth which first emerged 2000 years ago with the birth of Christ. Witi Ihimaera’s The Whale Rider couldn’t have graced our cinema screens at a more appropriate moment.

The Whale Rider is a superb parable for our times, and especially for this time of Advent and Christmas. It challenges the current predominance of masculine values over those of the soul. It locates the spiritual keeper of the culture’s myth in the heart and soul of a young girl, Paikea, who survives her twin brother in childbirth. In so many ways, in so many images, the film shows us that the old ways are gone; they are not able to be resuscitated any further; that out of the ‘least of the tribes of Judah’ the One who is to come, will be born. (Micah 5.2) We can no longer look around and create a new ‘chief’ from what is crumbling, because the new ‘leader’ is already in our midst. She stands among us – unknown to us. (John 1.26) But where do we meet her?

Greed, ambition, and power for its own sake, finally bring about the loss of mana attached to the old order. It was only when Koro, Paikea’s grandfather, lost his emblem of power and authority (the whalebone) to the dark waters of the ocean, that the old chief was finally brought to his knees. In their ambitious efforts to pass his final test to determine the new chief, the aspiring young males fail to recover the whalebone because of their infighting while trying to retrieve it.

Like Zechariah, Koro is struck down because of his refusal to see, and enters a transforming depression which finally causes him to open his eyes and recognize Paikea – a mere girl – in whom the new mana resides. And in the background Nanny Flowers, like a modern Elizabeth, recognizes the ‘fruit’ of her grand-daughter’s womb and realizes who the true chief is and what the nature of her leadership will be. Finally in that most powerful of scenes, when the waka is finally built, we are given an image of the new way, a new covenant of service and love.

Paikea, finally acknowledged as their leader, does not sit in the front of the boat, but in its centre, protected by Koro, symbol of the old dispensation. The feminine, the soul, is finally in her rightful place. From this place flow her radiating energy of love, and her capacity to reconnect all things. She brings into harmony that which was previously fractured and fragmented. With Paikea at its centre, the new vessel is launched, powered and steered by masculine and feminine, to be used in the service of all. In this superb and prophetic film, Witi Ihimaera has given us a powerful lens through which to view the eternal, archetypal truths of the Christmas story at a new depth.

Prior to the celebration of the Christmas Story this year, the final Advent liturgy invites us to reflect on the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth. Their meeting symbolizes a stage in a process of growth which happens when we dare to entrust our souls to another. It involves great courage and trust. But in this vulnerable place of sharing and receiving, something else happens. What we felt confused or fearful about is recognized by another for what is it – the beginning of new life. In the Whale Rider is was Nanny Flowers who saw beyond the status quo and, despite tapu-breaking consequences, recognized Paikea as the one in whom a new dispensation had been conceived. And it was to her that Paikea turned when Koro refused to recognize her.

Both Elizabeth and Mary were burdened with an unexpected pregnancy. Each needed to meet and be with the other. Elizabeth is a model of the prophetic voice which recognizes and welcomes the divine presence. Mary models the need to hear the affirmation of another person in order to identify more clearly the amazing journey to which she is called. So, when Elizabeth calls Mary the ‘Mother of my Lord’ she is expressing an eternal truth that is replicated in the psyche or soul of every person.

Today, many are called on a similar journey. They struggle to give birth to who they are, and to the place they occupy in an increasingly complex and evolving universe. Old explanations and religious beliefs no longer seem to provide the support, meaning and comfort which they used to.

‘We are all of us together carried in the one world-womb; yet each of us is our own little microcosm in which the Incarnation is wrought independently with degrees of intensity and shades that are incommunicable.’ (Teilhard de Chardin)

Often, like Koro, we are blind to what is evolving. We don’t recognize the ‘word made flesh’ in these fearful, pregnant states, but try to work things out rationally. Prior to the ‘Visitation’ the Angel of the Lord had visited Zechariah in the Holy of Holies, and tried to speak to him about Elizabeth’s miraculous pregnancy – but he refused to listen. For his disbelief he was struck dumb. Similarly, after his failure to find a new chief among the remaining boys in the village, Koro plunges into a depressive withdrawal : the outer sign of his loss of soul and despair. The dominant, masculine energy in both men and women is often not the means by which we encounter or understand a new incarnation of the divine presence. It needs to be ‘struck dumb’ so that the soul’s voice can be heard.

The dominant, masculine energy in both men and women is often not the means by which we encounter or understand a new incarnation of the divine presence. It needs to be ‘struck dumb’ so that the soul’s voice can be heard.

But in our prevailing climate of economic rationalism, the soul, and the feminine dimension in both men and women, is barely heard. Like Paikea, it is often banished from the marae, and it life-giving qualities are in constant danger of being excluded from leadership at all levels of society, including the Church. Such one-sided blindness has devastating consequences for our spiritual and psychological health and for the overall well-being of our society.

‘…a predominantly scientific and technological education such as is the usual thing these days, can bring about a spiritual regression and a considerable increase of psychic dissociation. Loss of roots and lack of tradition neuroticises the masses and prepares them for collective hysteria.’ (CJ Jung)

If we are to evolve out of this current, soul-destroying philosophy, it is crucial for all men and women, especially those who are guardians of the present dispensation, to listen to the still, small voice of the soul in which the seed of the divine is continually being conceived.

This means putting aside the rational, logical structures of the mind; being open to the ‘signs of the times’ and the way in which the Spirit of God is calling us to recognize a further manifestation of Christ in our time and culture; questioning the outer values which society currently parades before us; daring to share our deepest selves; reaching out and risking our souls.

Therefore if we are to evolve out of this current, soul-destroying philosophy, it is crucial for all men and women, especially those who are guardians of the present dispensation, to listen to the still, small voice of the soul in which the seed of the divine is continually being conceived.

If we are open, this encounter takes place with those we love and with whom we live – in the many domestic temples, communities, families, parishes and maraes in which we share our lives. In these meeting places the divine presence is recognized and the spirit burst forth, calling us to a different level of living and loving. And once more Christ is born.

‘My soul magnifies the Lord My spirit rejoices in God my Saviour’ Luke 1.46

—Joy Ryan-Bloore

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