Christmas Day falls on a Sunday this year, four weeks from today. The afternoon is dark and breezy, and here by the lake, feels much chillier than the 56 degrees that is the official temperature at the airport. Off to the west, there is the promise of light.
Advent is about waiting.
There is a Couer d’Alenes story, told by Catherine Feher-Elston in Ravensong (pages 65-75), about Circling Raven, a much-loved and respected shaman and chief, who, in 1740, was told by a small delegation of crows and ravens that a savior had been born many years previously. Circling Raven was then informed that men in black robes would bring details in about 100 years. The tribe was to remember the savior at the Solstice Celebration, and look for the Black Robes everywhere. Time passed, and the people did as they had been instructed. Protestant missionaries preached to nearby tribes but the Couer d’Alenes held firm in their waiting. Finally, in about 1835, they wrote an urgent letter to the Jesuits, who immediately sent priests to the people. For some ninety-five years the Couer d’Alenes kept faith with the prophecy, waiting for word of the Holy One. Their early conversion to Christianity, and the presence of the priests, may have largely shielded them from the atrocities and hardships faced by other Western tribes.
My first experience of Jesus came when I was five or so. I was in the garage pounding on a punching bag. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there with me. I don’t remember the conversation, just that he understood my situation and reminded me that my soul was good. My situation was this: I was a punching bag. My mother beat me frequently and severely. My father was distant, only occasionally hitting or beating me. His attacks were seldom as violent as those initiated by my mother. Occasionally mother would explain she was literally trying to “beat the Devil” out of me, apparently trying to “save” me. Jesus’ entry into my life of fear and violence was a welcome relief, and I was soon baptized. The odd thing was that no one believed I had been visited by a Holy One. It seemed that in Protestant Christianity the Holy Ones don’t waste their time on children.
Over time, the memory of that comforting visit waned. Yet, even today, remembering that late afternoon, I find myself filled with both wonder and doubt. The thing is, the Jesus who came to my side that day in the garage seemed to have very little in common with the Jesus of the church. My parents attended “Hell and Damnation” Protestant churches, and the Jesus I knew certainly would not have condoned a fear based religion. He seemed instead a compassionate presence, his heart deeply saddened by the violence filling so much of my young life. Even then, he did not condemn my parents, but rather appeared to see our collective plight for what it was. My parents did not, in their lifetimes, tell me what had happened in their lives to create such monumental fear and rage. I know there was childhood poverty and alcohol. I also know they were hiding our status as Natives, for what they understood as very good reasons. For me, as an elder, the pain and terror of those years is both present and much healed. I believe, and hope, my parents experienced similar healing in their lives.
Today, we enter the time of waiting. Many Christians focus on the prophesied return of Jesus. But the Jesus of The Rapture does not fit well with my experience of the Holy One who visited me almost 60 years ago. I also believe he has not gone anywhere; rather, he seems imminent. (The old fear of damnation and eternal violence is also, on occasion, present, although it continues to slowly wane.) I imagine Jesus suffers as he watches children and adults become afraid of him. I know he suffers in as he witnesses abuse, in all its forms, and when Christians participate in genocide in his name. I believe the Black Robes, when free of their own devils, hold a clear vision of him and his open, breaking heart.
This morning, after ceremony to relieve the suffering beings who linger in a place of much abuse, crows twice flew overhead, called out, and following the wind, flew East towards the Dawn and the place of Rebirth. Perhaps they took word to Jesus and the Holy Ones we are doing our best, with the aid of the Ancestors and spirits, to alleviate the suffering caused by decades of abuse, much of it leveled against Native children, some only five years old. I know the five year old I was, watches our efforts, and shares in the caring and healing. I am reminded, yet again, the Holy Ones are always present.
May we remember during Advent, and at Christmas, the gifts we give one another with love, are also gifts to Jesus, the other Holy Ones, and the Spirits.
This seems a good time to create things of great beauty to give directly to the Christ Child and the Others, in appreciation for their care, generosity, and suffering on our behalf. May we remember that Jesus was born when the people of Israel were enduring a long period of occupation. May we move beyond giving food and toys to those in need (although these may also be sorely needed) to a commitment to justice, safety, and the meeting of basic needs for all beings.
May this time of waiting be a Blessing for you, and fill you and yours with love and joy.
Do you have stories of Advent and/or the Holy Ones?