As is appropriate for the beginning of Advent, I have found myself concerned with endings and beginnings, with the old city and the promise of the new. So it has been a good week to hear from a wide variety of struggles with death and the rumors of death. Some of all this is appropriate to the questions of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, some of it is more suitable for late night existentialist conversations with my biologist son and artist daughter.
Anne, my mother, no slouch when it comes to taking the advents in life unflinchingly and with a sense of gusto, sent her computer-art drawing of the angel of death yesterday (Dec. 5) , along with a note about her sister’s death. With it she sent this comment:
“It looks like an executioner, with a red hood, but the vulture with claws and big beak remind me of the wrestling with death at the last. The angel wings and the halo are up-lifting and the dispassionate eyes full of stark reality.” The flowers and cards, she told me today, are reminders that others also come offering what they can.
The advent of the promised new creation seems to come with the executioner close at hand. That is why, I suppose, the Revelation reads quite differently if we understand ourselves as part of the promise of the “all things new” or simply part of the old about to fold and die. Stark reality is a mixed bag, indeed.
We will learn in our own bones the truths of Advent, and I am sure in the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church we will learn them as well. At the very least it is important to remember that everything living, everything organic, dies, and the gaze turns to what is next.
For reasons that must have some synergy about them I wrote this poem yesterday.
The heron crossed the marsh
where the moon had set
only minutes ago,
the minutes that separated
the dropping of the light
that shines by night
and the rising of the light
that shines by day.
It is almost time to end.
Almost frozen time,
almost dead winter,
In the marsh there are spirits
of the coming age,
in fugundity and muck,
in bio fermentation,
but they are silent.
The Heron tilts a wing to the east
and drops into freezing waters,
And death seems near.
I am alert, just as commanded,
but there is no escape.
The marsh conquers all,
the waters will rise.
You see all this?
The Heron and the flood?
Death on the wing and
In the ground.
When we stand before the Son of Man
It will not be because we escaped.
It will be because what is to come
Was written before that promise about the flood.
What was written
Was written in the mud.
Death and rumors of death are all around: Some say the Episcopal Church is dead; some say the unity of the realignment gang is unraveling and that effort is dead; Some say Christianity in the West is as defunct as Buffalo Bill. Aunt Caroline is dead, and it will not be too long before the buzzard angel stands beside the frame of everyone I love, and me. So death is a constant visitor.
But I say (in profound obedience to Jesus’ command): Be alert!
Something (or better yet Someone) is coming. You can bet on it.