Today is the first day of the Christian season of Advent. This is a time when the mode of prayer and reflection in the Christian Church is one of hopeful longing. We are looking forward to the fulfilment of God's promised kingdom of peace and justice, when love will hold sway in the world. Advent brings focus to the quintessential Christian prayer "Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven".
Christian hope in Advent springs up from the tension between, on the one hand our confidence in the unassailable victory of love, completed by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ , and on the other hand , the sorrow and pain of a world which is not yet transformed into God's kingdom. This hope-filled tension moves Christian action to change the world for the better, to shine light into dark places, to work for justice, and to love those who suffer. Christian prayer and effort to bring God's kingdom nearer is not driven by fear of the consequences of failure, but inspired by joyful confidence that love endures and will always be the last word.
My blog for each day in Advent will celebrate examples of action in the world inspired by hope and the desire to bring closer God's kingdom of love, peace and justice. These examples will be set within a reflection on a verse from the piece of Scripture the Church provides for reading that day.
Today, in a reading from the prophet Isaiah we find these well-known words:
" they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more." (Isaiah 2: 4b)
Hope that the nations of the world may learn to forswear war is perhaps as old as war itself. Today there are many hope-filled examples of people and organisations committed to finding ways to help us learn how to make peace and transform conflict. One of these I came upon by accident earlier this year whilst visiting Sweden. On holiday in the southern part of the country Lorraine and I spotted a road sign to Hammarskjold's Backakra. We were delighted to discover what had been the farm of Dag Hammarskjold, former Secretary -General of the United Nations. Set in 30 hectare of open fields by the Baltic coast the house at Backakra has been used as a museum and a retreat. The tranquil grounds include a meditation area which has at its centre a stone inscribed with the word PAX - peace.
In 2016 plans were announced by the estate's owners, the Dag Hammarskjold Backakra Foundation, to renovate the house and turn it into a modern conference centre dedicated to research in peace, conflict and human rights, in the spirit of Dag Hammarskold. Hammarskjold has been described as the best Secretary General the United Nations has had to date He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace posthumously following his mysterious death in a plane crash over the Congo on his way to cease-fire negotiations. There is sufficient evidence for some to believe that the plane was shot down by persons still unknown, to murder Hammarskjold before his intervention could damage certain vested interests in the ongoing conflict.
Hammarskjold's journal of his musings and aphorisms, Markings, was published in 1963 two years after his death; with a preface by his friend the poet W.H. Auden. In the preface Auden quotes a statement of Hammarskjold which characterises his spirituality:
"In our age, the road to holiness necessarily passes through the world of action."
Another of Hammarskjold's sayings has taken flight well beyond its author and is found quoted in many different texts and prayers;
" For all that has been,Thank you. For all that is to come,Yes!"