For whatever reason, God filled my October with ministry, and I loved it. He sent a wide range of tasks, all positioned at the front of the learning curve, and those to whom He sent me pronounced themselves satisfied.
What prepared me to do each deed was that I had prepared for it long ago, in a dedicated time of life. When called down to the Occupy site after a gunshot death, I ran around the house frantically seeking the tiny prayer books I used to carry around hospitals during Clinical Pastoral Education. There have been moments since that time when I despaired of ever using them again — because I loved CPE — but when I got to the site, I discovered that a completely different preparation would be valuable.
So I begin this Advent by reflecting on The Bhagavad Gita. For the studies I used at Occupy were not the theology and history from Harvard, but the Asian Studies work at the University of Cincinnati and the nonviolence training of the long-ago war in Vietnam. What linked them together was The Gita, and my copies have the yellowed pages to prove their long-ago primacy. It’s been decades since I opened even one of them.
This is the book Thoreau and then Gandhi read to strengthen themselves for nonviolent protest, for it calls to keeping focused on one’s soul in the midst of war. I own three different translations, and have decided that the one I like best was done by Barbara Stoler Miller, even though, as with the Bible, I have found that different translators provide my favorite version of certain passages. I did not pick this book up when going down to Occupy, but afterwards, in trying to figure out how I was able to stay calm, focused, and yet alert to the opportunity to promote peacefulness.
And you know what bothers me? My theological and cultural life live on the outside edges of UU Christian community, and I don’t want to do something that cuts ties with my community in one of our primary seasons. Can I prepare myself for Christmas by reading the Gita? Certainly the UU Sources say yes, even celebrate the opportunity to do so.
So what shall I give up instead? My Advent book of readings says this is a season of dying to the world in order to be ready for the coming of the Prince of Peace (Arjuna?), so I’m going to cut down on news shows. Not a hard decision when I woke up to a dream of John Boehner crying about something: a real sign I’ve got to cut back on Rachel Maddow and such.
The task seems daunting: not just to let my life be interrupted, but to let it change. That must be why the Christian calendar instructs us to do this twice each year, in autumn and again in springtime. Those seasons in this hemisphere are themselves an announcement that nothing stays the same. Like anyone else, I fight to hold on to the self which has grown familiar.
But this year, another self has been more comfortable: not the easy-going one, but the one who let herself be challenged.
Maybe that is the one who is coming this year: not as a savior or messiah, but just another piece of the puzzle as somewhere, something large, draws a better world out of this collectivity of frailty and fear. For that is what Krishna advised Arjuna: Do not let your weaknesses stand before you, multiplying and filling you with fear. Fasten your eyes on the larger goal, and let its strength become yours.