December 18, 2017

Lisa Dye: Parousia!

The Holy Eucharist, Kharlamov

The Holy Eucharist, Kharlamov, Church of the Savior on Spilt Blood, St. Petersburg

When my children were little, I diligently taught and enforced their close adherence to my side as we got in and out of the car, walked into stores, church or any other place. Looking back, I wasn’t strict or controlling in most respects. In fact, all my daughters voiced at one time or another that they wished I had been more demanding of them academically or musically or athletically. Rightly or wrongly, I opted not to nag.

Despite my deficiencies in many areas, I mastered this one aspect of parenting. Due to my compulsive anxiety over child predators and careless drivers in parking lots, I did a stellar job getting my little brood in and out of public places with no stragglers, no losses and no near misses. Yes, I drilled that into them so well, that I would frequently turn around in a panic not seeing my little four-year-old and quietly call out in barely contained hysteria. “Where are you?”

“I’m right here,” a little voice would chirp in reply.

“Oh!” There she was … so close I couldn’t see her when I turned around … like a shadow, right on my heels. Always. It happened so often you would think I’d have learned and stopped those panicky little spazz outs. Each of my little ones was always coming along with me, always right with me, never ever daring to defy me by running ahead or lagging behind. There was a short invisible string tied between me and them and it stayed that way until I eventually ceded it to the buddy system. When they were finally old enough, that invisible string kept them tied to each other shopping at malls, exploring the fields behind our house and finally on teenage driving ventures.

This remembrance came to me one night as I sat in my N.T. Greek class listening to my teacher discuss parousia. In a few concise, but loaded words, parousia, the Greek version of the Latin advent, means “coming,” “arrival” and also “presence.” How strange that this word can simultaneously refer to something that has happened, is yet to happen and already is. Jesus is has come. Jesus is coming. Jesus is always here.

This thought also led me to another thought … that of babies. I have had three of them. Walking through the events of my middle daughter’s pregnancy recently conjured vivid recollections of my own experiences. As each baby grew inside, I could feel its flutters and turnings under a hand on my belly, the shallow depth of stretched muscle, membrane and skin. There was a thin veil of separation between us, a bit of human flesh. But a baby was on its way. This child I’d never met was right there within me and not yet arrived. Maybe an ultrasound made the facial profile vivid or revealed its gender or showed it sucking its thumb in the womb. Maybe this baby had hiccups every afternoon at 3:00, but I never really knew my babies until they arrived.

Every parent knows the magic of first seeing a long awaited child. It is pure amazement, even if the baby bears striking resemblance to mother or father. There is familiarity, but in a previously unknown and unique package … a fresh and unexpected revelation. As the child grows and develops through its first months and into the years to come, there is more revelation … the full flowering of a person who is always present, but continually emerging in a deeper and richer way.

Last Supper, Negri

Last Supper, Negri

I’m not Catholic (though my husband has coined the term Protholic to describe me), but I was interested when I recently heard a priest talking about a part of the Mass called the epiclesis where he invokes Christ’s presence upon the Communion elements and rings bells to signify the moment. He said that when he was a little boy sitting in the pew, his mother would tell him, “Richard, when you hear the bells, Jesus is coming.” A day or two after I heard this, it dawned on me that epiclesis is a two-part Greek word. Epi, means “upon” or “on,” depending on the case. It indicates personal touching. Clesis is from ka-lei-o meaning “to call.” During the epiclesis, the priest calls for the real presence of Christ to come upon the bread and the wine … to touch it. The epiclesis happens in every Mass a million places around the world. It has been happening over and over for 2,000 years. Christ has come to us, but he is always still coming.

Like a baby whose arrival we await, Christ is in our midst and yet always about to arrive. “At present, we see indistinctly, as in a mirror …” (1 Corinthians 13:12). The veil of our human flesh prevents us from discerning the full revelation of him. And in his kindness, his own human flesh has veiled us from the burning brightness of His Majesty. Yet, as we call upon him in prayer, receive him in Communion, encounter him in Scripture, live in his Body, the Church, and are enlivened by the breath of his Spirit, we know him more … little by little. Christ is always coming to us until the day of his final coming when we will know him fully.

Luke’s gospel fascinates me for its account of the time just prior to Jesus’ coming. Whenever I read chapters 1 and 2, I get a distinct impression of an atmosphere of human longing and a mighty, unseen working of God about to manifest in time and space. I wish I could know what it felt like to live then. The angel prophesying to Zechariah and Elizabeth regarding their son, John, who would be known as The Baptizer, said, “And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:17). Seven hundred years previously, the prophet Isaiah wrote of John, “A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (Isaiah 40:3). The time for Christ’s coming was imminent. The earth must have groaned in eager anticipation of it.

ALTO 6The theme in these verses, tied together through the centuries, is preparation. Preparation is something we hear much about during the season of Advent. For many of us, the true sense of it is lost in the hustle and bustle of our other preparations … preparations that are visible and tangible. But getting ready for the coming of the Lord is not about wrapping gifts or hanging the decorations or sprucing up the guest bedroom. It is about preparing a highway in the dry deserts of our hearts. John’s mission, according to the angel, was to turn fathers to the loving care of their children, to smooth out hard stony paths to the center of souls, to elicit repentance that would call out in need of a Savior. Jesus was coming.

Later in Luke’s gospel, some Pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom of God was coming. He answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you” (Luke 17:20,21), reiterating that the most important aspect of advent takes place deep within us. The coming of the kingdom is shrouded in mystery, carried in Christ incarnate. It bypasses the overt and observable and takes up residence in those prepared to receive him. The kingdom was among them, within them and around them. It had arrived because Jesus had brought it. He was standing there in their midst, true God from true God, the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being. The kingdom was in a person … Jesus. Jesus was here.

If Jesus was here and his kingdom was here, why did he then instruct us to pray to the Father, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10)? He told us in Luke 17 that God’s kingdom had arrived, but here he seems to be saying, “Pray that it continues to arrive.” It is through continual preparation, the relentless dislodging of boulders of bitterness, the diligent straightening of the highways to our hearts. Never stop. Jesus would always be coming.

We celebrate Advent or parousia, like the epiclesis, over and over, throughout the earth It is a vivid picture of an invisible reality. The preparation for Christ’s coming is a continuous action because he is always on his way to us, until we receive him completely. Every boulder we dig from our depths, every prayer of submission we whisper, every turning of our hearts to our people brings the revelation of Christ in human flesh, a fresh advent of the mystery of Emmanuel … God with us.

Father, help us not despise or diminish these days of rites and rituals. They are divine dramas, given to us by you and acted on our human stage until the advent, the parousia, the coming of Christ is perceived entirely, the veil that darkens our spirits is lifted and we see him face to face.

Comments

  1. David Cornwell says:

    Lisa, thank you so much. This post is so wonderfully full of meaning about Advent and beyond. It touches on things that we can barely understand, for language does not do justice. We have to listen with ears intent on hearing, and even then we can miss.

    The post from yesterday, along with this one mean a lot personally to me for some reason. They bring with them comfort in an unusual way. We wait for the King to be revealed, even as He s being revealed.

    Thank you.

    • Thank you, David. Yes, words are hard to find when trying to articulate mysterious things. I look back over what I have written and feel I have failed miserably, but as we keep trying we go a little farther. I wish you a blessed Advent!

      • David Cornwell says:

        Lisa, you haven’t failed at all. Your explanation of “parousia” gets to the heart of the language of the matter as much as anyone can. The problem with some theology is the idea that it can logically explain all things, thus removing mystery. However good writing will recognize its limitations, and at its best take us more deeply into the mystery, not remove it.

        I think you have been able to do that. Keep up your good work.

  2. This is lovely, Lisa! I, too, remember the sense of wonder and waiting for a little person, unknown but already loved, who was hiding in plain sight waiting to enter the world of light and air.

    Question for you…..you describe the moment of consecration so beautifully, the calling forth of the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Just curious as to whether or not participating in this Communion was something you were considering in your own life??

    • Hello Pattie. My short answer is “yes,” I am considering this. The longer one is much more complicated but I am distracted by a serious health situation with one of my grandchildren, so I can’t write very coherently to explain where I am in this right now. I have so many questions, but am studying and trying to listen as I pray.

  3. Beautiful.

  4. One of your best, Lisa. And I will be praying for your grandchild.

  5. Think you, Lisa

  6. Deeply appreciated – thank you!

  7. Lisa, I envy you being able to take a physical classroom course in NT Greek. It might well provide the discipline I lack in trying to learn it from books or programs. I seem to respond more in spirit to Greek terminology than Latin. Case in point, I struggle with “Advent” as a concept which I don’t think would be as difficult if it was commonly called “Parousia”. Perhaps in the Eastern wing of the church it is.

    Thanks for your very nice piece today. The main point I am taking away from it is that parousia means not only coming and arrival, which I think advent carries well enough, but parousia also means presence. If that is common knowledge, somehow you have helped me see it for the first time today. And realizing Presence may well be the essence of what centering prayer is all about.

    Much seems to be made in Advent of waiting, one of the things about Advent I struggle with. It seems to me a denial of the permanent entrance of Light into the world all those many years ago. We don’t have to wait for that Light like we wait for the Solstice, it isn’t something that happens once a year, it’s available 24/7. All we have to do is realize its Presence.

    • Charles, I am very fortunate to have had this Greek class for the last four years. My teacher is a pastor who does this because he loves it and charges only for materials. I go as much for the theological applications as I do for the grammar and translation (I’m not very good). During the time I have been going, the students have been priests, pastors, linguists and lay people from several denominations. The class has truly been a blessing to me.

      I think you hit the nail on the head in saying that parousia is as much about presence as it is about the anticipation of arrival. That is what my teacher was trying to convey. He mentioned that thinking in those terms casts a different light on interpreting end time events as well as on how we live out our days as individuals. We ran out of time and couldn’t explore that, but I have been giving those ideas some thought.

  8. Just so I’m not one of those people who posts only when articles are controversial and need to be FOUGHT FOR OR AGAINST…

    Lisa, this is great. Thanks for sharing your heart. Fine, good words.

  9. I love this Lisa. Richard Rohr had a very similar meditation a few days back. He discussed the scripture about being ready for the master of the house to return and how we always think of it as the second coming or perhaps readiness for our own time of death. To paraphrase the point he made, we are eternally receiving the approaching Christ and that if that isn’t our posture then we are never ready. A continuous state of receptivity is a good start at following Paul’s exhortation to ‘pray always’. I think this was a fabulous post. Thank you.

  10. Lisa, this is beautiful – one of the most moving and thought provoking reflections that I’ve read this Advent. Thank you.

  11. Christiane says:

    so beautifully written, LISA

  12. Lisa, your writing is a timely gift. A friend and I were just recently discussing and trying to discern the second coming. I love the way you’ve presented this. Thank you.

  13. Lisa, I’m an old man, 73 years in age, 43 years in Christ, and rooted in old-time holiness, a legalism that has sense evolved into something close to television evangelism, me nowadays, seated in the balcony watching from afar. If Christ “in” me remains a mystery of grace extended, me “in” the Church has proven as great an enigma, an “umbilical cord attachment” made possible only because of the same by which I was birthed into Him. Your words here, though, paint a picture of communion and being one of His more descriptive than I’ve ever heard it brought forth elsewhere. This one is a “keeper”. Thank you for allowing His anointing to so use you in sharing…

  14. Hi Lisa,

    First time response on IM. I suspect there are a lot of other hidden readers out there 🙂

    Your posts are always an “Arrow through the heart”. I’ve been pondering God’s presence and faith in the Christian life, particularly in relation to personal experience. With “eyes of faith” & practising mindfulness, we can see “God in us”. You put that into words in a beautiful way.

    Cheers