On The Dark Side

Reflection on the First Sunday of Advent (November 27)

by Gregory Swiderski

The readings for this Sunday:

Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7
Psalm 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19
1Corinthians 1:3-9
Mark 13:33-37

The full text of the readings can be found here.

When I meet the people who established this lectionary, I will have several questions. First up: why would you begin a new liturgical year with a reminder of how lowly, even despicable we seem? "We are sinful...all our good deeds are like polluted rags … our guilt carries us away like the wind ... we have all withered like leaves." Since I have been raking leaves in my mother's yard for several weeks, I have a visceral familiarity with the latter and polluted rags seems so noxious.

Must organized religion be associated with such repugnant and distasteful experiences and emotions? I wish it were not so. Are we hardwired to the point that guilt and shame course through our beings with as much power as the blood and oxygen which feed our life force?

There is no doubt that these difficult feelings too often afflict our souls. We will never eliminate them nor need we be defined by them.

Recently two books about Abraham Lincoln have intrigued me. One tells the story of his melancholy, while the other tells how he had the emotional stability and political savvy to name to his cabinet his major rivals for the presidency. Imagine George Bush naming John Kerry as Secretary of State.

Doris Kearns Goodwin, the author of the latter book, said that Lincoln possessed emotional intelligence. Not only could he name Stanton and the others to these positions, he also "managed" them very well; even befriended them.

Was Lincoln so able to connect with his own disappointments and subsequent, dark emotions that he grew inwardly stronger? With such integration of demons and angels, such down to earth and seemingly simple wisdom from his modest upbringing, was he more able to trust in his own strength and resiliency?

Could we let pain and other demanding experiences, like guilt and shame, teach us? Listen to Adrienne Rich's words about another wounded person in a poem entitled POWER:

Today I was reading about Marie Curie

she must have known she suffered from radiation sickness

her body bombarded for years by the element she had purified.

It seems she denied to the end

the source of the cataracts on her eyes

the cracked and suppurating skin of her finger ends

till she could no longer hold a test tube or a pencil.

She died a famous woman

denying her wounds

denying her wounds came from the same source as her power.

Did Marie Curie live in denial while Lincoln's wisdom was born from the rich, dark soil of his varied and demanding life? Is this the genius of the Cross? Where am I?