The Second Sunday of Advent
(Isaiah 40:1-11, Mark 1:1-8)
Ever try to take a 2-year-old on a straight-ahead, purposive walk? It just doesn't happen. Children that age have an entirely different agenda. If you don’t believe me, merely take a day and go to Disneyland and you will see for yourself. For a 2-year-old, there is no sense of accomplishment with leaving point A in order to arrive at point B. The only reason for even venturing out the door is the prospect of the journey -- no, the meander -- that takes place between point A and point B.
When you are 2, the world is still a new and fascinating place. Every stone deserves investigation, every mud puddle beckons, and every creepy, crawly creature must be scrutinized and subjected to awe, or torture, or screams of delight and horror. In fact, when you are 2, the only possible reason for finally arriving at point B is so that now the trek back to point A can begin.
Naturalist and eco-theologian Jim Corbett has targeted this philosophy of travel of the 2-year-old in his book Goatwalking. Having rather more knowledge of goats than toddlers, Corbett focuses on the round-about, over- and-under, onto boulders and under blackberries wanderings that these sure-footed, independent little animals conduct in their daily travels.
Goatwalking, as Corbett calls it, is a mode of journeying that doesn't so much traverse the countryside as caress it. Without all their skills and attention focused on a destination, goatwalkers have the ability to feel the contours of the land under their feet and allow the earth itself to set their path.
"Goatwalking" is obviously not an activity solely available to goats and 2-year-olds. Corbett encourages all of us to try this form of travel periodically. He calls goatwalking a form of "errantry." While we usually think of errantry as the journeys of medieval Knights of the Round Table, Corbett makes the term both accessible and alluring for post moderns. Errantry, he declares, means sallying out beyond society's established ways, living "according to one's inner leading.”
There aren't a lot of goatwalkers, individuals involved in errantry, these days. Especially at Christmas. If Christians of the past were notorious for the exercise of piety known as the Stations of the Cross, Christians of today struggle to know what the Stations of the Cross even are.
Whereas in the former (usually conducted during Lent), Christians would make pilgrimages to 14 sites where their souls could be refreshed and renewed as they contemplated the sacrifices of Christ, in the latter (usually at its peak activity during Advent) Christians make pilgrimages to 14 or so malls and shops where they contemplate doohickeys, gazingus pins and other perishable objects.
Christmas has become an annual rite of shopping mall tours, online shop binging and a number of other imaginable activities that have little really to do with the real Christmas. Christmas has become an annual round of clutter parties, clutter schedules, clutter jobs and clutter motives. Clutter afflicts our lives as never before. Our spirits have become chained to the Way of the hustle-bustle, not the Way of the Cross or the Way of the Christ Child.
Maybe it is time we, like John, listen to another beckoning voice, a different drummer. Goatwalking is a way of life for all who would live by communion and not by possession.
John the Baptist was a classic goatwalker. Clad in his camel's hair robe, living and preaching out in the wilderness, eating things most of us would get the willies just stepping on, John was definitely listening to the directives of an inner voice. While everyone around him was dancing to the beat of an establishment sound (or listening to no drummer at all), John turned up the volume on that different drum.
The power of John's witness -- both his own personality and the truth of the message he preached -- was so great that people left the well-worn city streets and village squares to seek him out. Pulled along by the flow of John's spiritual forces, these crowds goatwalked their way to this solitary voice in the wilderness, not knowing what to expect, yet filled with an inexplicable hope and anticipation.
Goatwalking has always been a favorite way of encountering the God of the Bible. The Hebrews spent 40 years goatwalking, or maybe "goat-bumbling" is a better way of putting it, as they tried to discover the path that would lead them into a faithful relationship with God. God has regularly chosen goatwalkers to be divine mouthpieces. Some of the oddest, most independent and unpredictable people are found among the prophets. It should come as no surprise to us then that it was to "professional" goatwalkers -- the goatherds and shepherds camped out with their wandering flocks in the middle of nowhere -- that the announcement of Jesus' birth was first proclaimed. The first people on the scene in Bethlehem, to worship and praise the tiny newborn king, were these simple, scruffy social zeros -- the goatwalkers.
Would these same ordinary peasants have been tuned in to the miraculous message that came to them from the heavens that night if they had been attending a long-range planning session, or worrying about their mortgages, or trying to make their herd animals look spiffier than anyone else's. It seems doubtful.
As Christmas fast approaches, we may all be helped by consciously taking some time to slow our steps and broaden our horizons to try to see if we too can goatwalk into Bethlehem this year.
A successful goatwalk requires three things of us -- to do nothing, go nowhere and lose hold.
Doing nothing really means allowing yourself to fully awaken to the present. Consider each moment a God-filled increment, and feel it in your soul. Open yourself to Christ being born in you this year.
Sitting quietly, doing nothing, spring comes and the grass grows by itself.
Go nowhere means letting yourself sit more than walk; reap more than sow; take what God offers rather than what you can grab. Goatwalkers involved in going nowhere find a wealth of riches in the blessings of health, sun, rain and soil. Find a sense of place this Christmas. Become a placed rather than a displaced person.
Lose hold gives goatwalkers the freedom to stop trying to take charge of their lives and allows God to take over. The truth is, the most beautiful and meaningful things in life are never things we can hold on to anyway.
Ever hear anyone after an especially beautiful anthem say, "Wouldn't it be wonderful if for just a moment we could hold on to it?" But while we can hear the music, sing the music, dance the music, we cannot hold the music.
So throw away your compass, your cellular phone, your iPad. Give up those Stations of the hustle and bustle. Pull on your camel- hair coat, grab a baggie full of locusts and goatwalk your way to Bethlehem.
You can set out on any path you choose. For whether you reach it or not depends on your sense of everything but direction.
Let us pray.
That Christ may guide the minds of those who govern so as to promote the common good according to His will. We pray to the Lord. (Lord hear our prayer.)
That our Lord will work closely with the governing factions in Israel and the unrest that was caused by our president’s new declaration in regard to their capital. May peace and diplomacy be the guiding force. We pray to the Lord.
For our parish community; that God who has begun the good work of drawing us together in faith will continue to perfect it this Advent. We pray to the Lord.
That love within families will increase in knowledge of what is truly good and valuable. We pray to the Lord.
For the poor, the sick, the homeless, the unemployed, the addicted, the lonely, and those who mourn; that Jesus will come close to them and use us as agents of His mercy. We pray to the Lord.
We especially pray for those who live in the areas of the catastrophic fires in our state; may they find comfort, shelter, ample resources, and experience great mercy from all those whom they meet in this time of their struggle. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for the horses and the wildlife that also are struggling through these fires; we ask that they find safety and compassionate humans to help them in their time of need. We pray to the Lord.
That the Holy Spirit will endue the United States and North Korea with patience and a greater understanding towards peace between our two countries. We pray to the Lord.
A special remembrance for this anniversary of those who lost their lives in Pearl Harbor during the second world war; may their bravery always be remembered and cherished. We pray to the Lord.
For the grace this week to have hope and live lives that glorify God. We pray to the Lord.
Loving Father, we await new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Keep us faithful and true to You this Advent. Hear our pleas and grant us Your grace and mercy in this special season of the Church year. Through Christ our Lord. Amen
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA