academia, Advent, Churl, ecumenism, Holy Spirit, John Henry Newman, Mary, Moot, sacrament, thing
Advent is upon us.
In the Gospel text (Mark 13.24-37), Jesus instructs his disciples, ‘Keep awake.’ Keep awake, he says. Pay attention to the signs: ‘The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers of heaven will be shaken. Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds” with great power and glory.’
Though we may not seem like it, we are awake. Our founder Churl started A Christian Thing to be a Thing. Like the Ents in Tolkien’s Middle-earth, a Thing is not an object – a Thing is a Moot, an Entmoot, a meeting of the wise. We do not profess to be wise, Churl wisely said. We only profess to have a Thing.
Our Thing has been fairly quiet over the last little bit. Things have certainly happened on this Thing – we had a Thing about Mark Driscoll and the New Calvinists being crypto-Catholics, a Thing about mental health, a Thing about the place of Christians in an academy in crisis, a Thing about Churl’s conversion to Catholicism and a lively exchange about the catholicity of Protestantisms Anglican and Lutheran, a Thing about orientalization and Asian American evangelicals. We have had Things about things in the media, from natural disasters to the Newtown shooting to Occupy Central in Hong Kong.
And suddenly, quiet. Maidan. Ferguson. The Umbrella Movement. Ayotzinapa. Burnaby Mountain. Silence.
Have we fallen asleep?
Before we started A Christian Thing, we Christians, most of us Protestant moving up the sacramental ladder in fits and starts, had about a year of very intense dialogue at a very secular university in a fairly secular nation-state north of the one that most people think about in North America. We talked up a storm about Charles Taylor, we had Baylor University’s Ralph Wood deliver some mind-blowing lectures on Fyodor Dostoevsky and Flannery O’Connor, we debated how Christians in secular universities should be doing theology, we created friendships that have lasted till even now when we are scattered over the four corners of these two aforementioned nation-states.
Around this time, we came across a book written by John Henry Newman, which for most of us climbing the sacramental ladder was a bit of an unapologetic inspiration. This book was The Idea of a University. I got myself a copy and found something in there I didn’t expect. In the preface, Newman lambastes people who feel compelled to have an opinion about everything on the news. It’s not the point of academia, he says. Academic reflection is – in the wise words of a reviewer of an academic article that I just got notice to revise – about ‘digging deeper, wondering, and digging deeper still.’
Indeed, the truth is that more of our writing is likely moving away from the blog into places with our real names on them, including in peer-reviewed journal articles. That’s not to say that we’re done with this blog – far from it. But in talking with some of those of us on this Thing, I think having this Thing has helped us appreciate what this Thing is about – digging, wondering, and digging deeper still. The character of that Thing has permeated our work, academic, popular, and whatever.
That contemplative work is Marian in character. It’s no surprise, then, that the figure who haunts this thing is the Blessed Virgin.
Here’s the Thing. Our Lord Jesus Christ instructs us to stay awake, to pay attention to the signs that the kingdom of God is breaking into the world, that the end is collapsing into the now. We have detected the movement of the Spirit: breaking from our criticism of the New Calvinism and the gospels of boundary-making isolations, we continue to see that the Lord knew what he was doing when he put Francis in Rome, Justin Welby in Canterbury, Tawadros II in Egypt, and Bartholomew in Constantinople. We watch as the hovering the Spirit yields new ecumenisms we have never imagined, ecumenisms that are ecclesial like Francis bowing his head for a blessing from Bartholomew, as well as ecumenisms that seek to establish a true ecumene in the midst of a world still plagued by colonial capitalist racialization and the attempted silencing of the poor. We are awake, pondering these things in our hearts because even while those whom Cornel West calls the ‘oligarchs and plutocrats’ seem to be tightening their grip on our institutions and our lands, the dignity of the human person has been asserted in more ways than one over this last year.
But who is the one who taught us to see these signs? Is it not the Blessed Virgin? Is it not she who has gone ahead of the Pilgrim Church, she who undoes the knots that our sin has tied, she who displays for us what the fusion of nature and grace is? Is she not the one whom we ask in every Rosary and Angelus, ‘Mary, what do you see? What is the mystery you behold? What are the things that you ponder in your heart?’
Our Lord Jesus Christ has instructed us to stay awake. We, with the Virgin Mother, are awake. And we still profess to have a Thing.