[a couple of Advent pieces from a church service this morning seemed worth sharing – don’t miss the song after the reading!]
So there’s no safe place. God, it seems, might insert himself into any conversation, any century. Might settle in – any old place, as he quintessentially did in the West Bank, Palestine, small town called Bethlehem. The story is – God breathed himself into the womb of a woman, turning himself over to her umbilical care, folding himself into fetal position, pressing and turning inside Mary, ‘til she, breathing hard, bore down. Mary’s womb turned inside out – amniotic water, gasping infant, placenta spilling into the night, messy and miraculous as any birth anywhere and not a safe place. Did he know – he must have – when he took on flesh and fingernail and bone marrow, he would be at our mercy?
For us too, no safe place. For you see what he’s done – given notice how he, at any time, might break into our conversation, West Bank, West Coast, Bethlehem, Vancouver. There’s no place safe from his radical willingness to be among us.
This, then, is the great humanistic and historical task of the oppressed: to liberate themselves and their oppressors as well. The oppressors, who oppress, exploit, and rape by virtue of their power; cannot find in this power the strength to liberate either the oppressed or themselves. Only power that springs from the weakness of the oppressed will be sufficiently strong to free both. Any attempt to “soften” the power of the oppressor in deference to the weakness of the oppressed almost always manifests itself in the form of false generosity; indeed, the attempt never goes beyond this. In order to have the continued opportunity to express their “generosity,” the oppressors must perpetuate injustice as well. An unjust social order is the permanent fount of this “generosity” which is nourished by death, despair, and poverty. That is why the dispensers of false generosity become desperate at the slightest threat to its source.
[Just after Pentecost Sunday, I recalled this reading describing the experience of the Holy Spirit in the base communities among the poor in Latin America]:
Then they have this experience: suddenly they begin to act; they discover that they themselves are capable of action. Before, they had no plans, no projects for the future, only frustrated dreams. They had no confidence in their own judgment, in their capacity to plan and gain practical knowledge of the world. They followed custom of the instructions of their masters. Now they discover that they are acting for themselves, discover that they are capable of setting and seeking goals, of achieving objectives….
It is a matter of experience undergone by a community of people who feel that something new is coming about in their midst.
Jose Comblin, The Holy Spirit and Liberation (1989)
In the din of the capitalistic, technological society, which bombs abroad and consumes at home, the basis for a way of liberation can be found in solitude. In solitude, in the depths of a man’s own aloneness, lie the resources for resistance to injustice. Resistance arises first from a perception of man’s suffering and from the assumption of one’s own responsibility to seek the transformation of a murderous system into a human society. The resister recognizes injustice and inhumanity for what they are and concludes, “I am responsible for either condoning their existence or struggling for change.” But for a man to take responsibility in public for his society, he must have the deeper integrity to take responsibility in solitude for his own inner life. Otherwise the only basis for social change will be personal alienation, and one’s act of resistance will be less a response to injustice than a flight from solitude.