Advent at Standing Rock
Advent comes at that time of year when our planet turns unstoppably toward winter’s darkness. In this strangest of years, it seems that our awareness of truth or falsehoods and how they shape us has also moved intractably into a dark dissolvingness. We are in a post-foundational world, where we no longer have a fixed point of truth to orient ourselves around.
At the time when Jesus was born into the world, the mind and reason were likened to the divine. Matter, body and earth were all seen as lesser, base, and even evil. Today, the mind is elevated in a different way where opinion and propaganda carry as much weight as any set of facts or proofs. Critical thinking seems to be a rare commodity. In this post-foundational era, everyone discerns their own truth. Christianity has over 40,000 denominations itself. So how do we know what is true?
Moreover, during the last few weeks since what must be the strangest election in our history, I’ve spent many hours listening to and supporting those who feel frightened by what has come to pass in our nation. They fear that their black, brown, disabled, or gay bodies will be even less respected and less safe than ever, and that they will face more persecution. Power is a way of putting a clear narrative back in place again, but the rise of this dominant narrative leaves many people out. I feel powerless and sad in the face of it all.
In Jesus’ time there was also a sense of powerlessness and fear for his people, the Jews, who suffered oppression under the Romans. But it seems that in the midst of their powerlessness and fear, God had a pretty strange way of sending help and clarity. He sent a body, a vulnerable human infant.
Christianity was originally very much a body religion. In the coming of Jesus we see an embodied God, born of woman, wrapped in flesh. His body later endured suffering and death, like any other body. His resurrection was of the body. He offers his body and blood to be taken into our own bodies, to nourish and to heal. God entered into the flesh and blood world, came to be a body with us, in embodied community. God expressed God’s heart, true empathy, by entering into our world of matter.
So it seems that the truth that God longs to tell is told best through bodies that move into the lives and reality of others.
I had long been feeling compelled to go up to North Dakota to the Standing Rock reservation, where the Lakota Sioux face the loss of more of the land given to them by Treaty and a serious risk to their water source due to the construction of a new oil pipeline. As I prepared to go, I was inundated with articles sent by well-meaning friends that detailed how the tribe was lying, uncooperative, and violent. I immediately felt the pull of an old familiar assumption that the corporations and the government were right, and the Native peoples were wrong. This was the assumption of my mind from white world.
So how do you find the truth? The advent of God into this world shows us that you go, you dislocate from your place of certainty in order to listen. So my friends and I brought our bodies there, to see and experience what the Lakota Sioux were seeing and experiencing. And I saw for myself the truth of the story there. I saw the land in question. I heard the prayers that bathed every action and movement. I saw the firm commitment to no weapons, alcohol or drugs in the camp. There was only prayer and bodies, holding a line.
In a world that grows more fragmented by the day, I saw people of many ethnicities and colors and religions who were willing to put their bodies on the line for others, to sleep on the cold ground, and share firewood, food, tobacco, and stories. I saw that there are people who are willing to stand with those who are oppressed and forgotten. I saw love. I saw it for myself: This is what is real. This is what is true. There is and always has been a subversive counter movement of love in a world that seems to belong to the mighty, that quietly chips away at the superstructures of power that bulldoze whoever is in their way. It looks weak and fragile by comparison, but it is real.
I can imagine how foolish it looks to use only vulnerable flesh and bone to hold a line, to “fight” in a sense, with only a cloak of invisible prayer as a shield. Yet that is how God came into this world, as a vulnerable infant, without protection or power. He came through a female body and was then adored by others whose bodies were also considered unclean and unorthodox, like shepherds and astrologers and Native Americans. This paradoxical advent of God into this world shows us the truth of how we can once again find our way. It’s a secret held out in the open. Go to the disenfranchised, the left out, the lonely, the forgotten, the reviled. It is in the very movement of love towards the other that we will see God. The Light that illuminates our darkness does not come by way of weapons or power. It always and only comes by way of mercy.
“By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Luke 1:78-79
In Advent we wait, trusting the promise that light will come into our darkness and illuminate us from on high. Today, the Lakota Sioux continue to pray and wait and hold the line. And now in this second week of Advent, they have been joined by hundreds of veterans willing to hold the line with them, using only prayer and bodies. Please continue to pray for them all.