I keep my eyes and thoughts focus on one candle at a time reflecting the subtle meaning of each as it’s was being lit for the past four weeks. To make meaning out of them, I needed to know what it means to others.
A famous agnostic writer, Douglas Todd for Vancouver Sun, has given a fresh view on advent candles. It is always refreshing to read his thoughts even though he is a non-believer. He has a way of drawing me closer and deeper into my faith. These are bits and pieces from his articles written in 2011.
Week 1 of Advent – Badlands
Bruce Springsteen wrote his classic song Badlands in the 1970s while battling the pain and brokenness of “trouble in the heartland.”
I believe in the love that you gave me
I believe in the faith that can save me
I believe in the hope.
And I pray that some day it may raise me
Above these Badlands.
– Bruce Springsteen, Badlands
Springsteen is a Catholic who openly discusses his mental illness. With his stubbornness and deep belief, there is hope.
Henri Nouwen also emphasized that hope is faith in something beyond our control. “I have found it very important in my life to let go of my wishes and start hoping,” Nouwen said. “Hope is always open-ended.”
Amid despair, hope is stronger than optimism.
Week 2 of Advent – Peace, with a jazzy edge
Why, on the second Sunday of Advent, do hundreds of millions of Christians continue to light the wreath candle devoted to peace?
Peace is not just the cessation of violence. The most famous non-violent spiritual warriors, Mohandas Gandhi, said: “If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed – but hate these things inside yourself, not in another.”
In other words, peace can have an edge. LOOK TO YOURSELF.
Peace remains central to the three major Western religious traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
To express the sentiment “Peace be with you,” Jews often say “Shalom aleichem.” Muslims utter “Salaam alaikum.” Christians might recite “Pax vobiscum.”
Peace I live with you,
Peace I give to you.
Not as the world gives do
I give to you.
~ Jesus Christ
From the Christian perspective, the Catholic paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin said joy is “the most infallible sign of the presence of God.”
Week 3 of Advent ~ Joy to the world
It’s easier to sing it than define it. Are we really filled with joy?
Lighting the Advent candle of joy is a fitting way for Christians to prepare for Christmas, since “joy” is the word that nervous mothers and fathers often use to describe the birth of their daughters and sons.
The experience of human birth, even the sudden delivery of a puppy or kitten, can fill us with a presence, an almost mystical presence, which transcends. Which lifts us up, in awe.
Man was made for joy and woe
And when this we rightly know
Safely through the world we go.
~ William Blake
The Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh, the most popular Buddhist teachers in the West, sometimes use the words “happiness” and “joy” interchangeably. Joy is decidedly powerful, an emotion many fear and deny, including the founder of modern psychotherapy, Sigmund Freud. Coincidentally, Freud dismissed both joy and the religious impulse, judging it merely a desperate illusion.
Like hope and beauty, joy comes as a gift, as grace.
Week 4 of Advent ~ The greatest of all these is Love
The Greeks discerned at least three major kinds of love: Eros, or sexually energized love, philia, or the love between friends and thirdly is agape, which is akin to compassion and altruism.
What of love?
The apostle Paul famously held up the centrality of love, hope and trust, but passionately emphasized that “the greatest of these is love.”
Despite the complexities of love, few in the secular West today are ready to contradict Paul, the man who arguably did the most to spread the wisdom of Jesus to the world.
Likewise, William Shakespeare, the English-speaking world’s most celebrated bard, was almost obsessed with love, which comes in so many forms – romantic, fraternal, sacrificial, communal and holy.
Why is God so often equated with love? It is no simple question.
But Shakespeare knew in his heart what many have tried to express for millennia: Love appears to be a self-replenishing spiritual force, beyond human understanding.
As Romeo exclaims to Juliet in one of history’s most famous love stories:
“My bounty is as boundless as the sea, my love as deep, the more I give to thee, the more I have. For both are infinite.”
Douglass Todd may not believe in God, however, his writings made me explore my relationship with God in humanity.
Wishing all the very best.