When I saw this sculpture in a local art gallery, I was struck by how it expresses what it so often feels like to be alive and to struggle to stretch, grow, become. This man supports a platform. Atop it will be – I don’t know – a stylite, a geranium? It also reminds me of church architecture in which the column, be it doric or corinthian, is toped with an ending block which serves to separate heaven and earth in the architecture.
In Latin spirituality (the theology and spirituality of Rome and the Mediterranean) one sees a lot of stone columns in churches and public buildings, each with a base, a column and a top-stone which ends the column and begins what the architect would consider “heaven.”
In Celtic spirituality (The theology and spirituality of Christian Celtic lands like England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland and France) one is less likely to see so many columns nor the theology which goes with them. The Celts lives a more meagre life, partly because of the weather and the short growing season. Think of Italian food. Then think of British food. I rest my case. Food is scarce in a land in which there is a short or difficult growing season – a lack of light or a lack of water. I live on two farms – one in New Hampshire with its lack of warmth and one in New Mexico with its lack of water. Both are hard on growing and so too, hard on life.
Celtic spirituality, based as it is in the humility of real financial poverty has, in my opinion, flourished in spiritual wealth. That is something I notice. Hardship will inspire great spiritual and emotional depth. Wealth will inspire some of the most shallow people I have ever met (with some stunning exceptions.) In Christian Celtic spirituality “heaven” is not “way up there” near the ceiling of a church or cathedral, above the ornate columns. In Celtic spirituality, “heaven” is a few millimeters beyond ones arm’s reach. It is here, with us.
Advent is about God being “with us” in the humility of a stable rather than the glamour of a high altar. But it remains a struggle, at least for me, to emerge from the carving God is making of my life. It remains also a struggle to remember that “heaven” is just a few millimeters from my hand’s reach – indeed, all around me.
Advent is not a time in which we find God. Advent is a time in which we stretch, awaken and realize that, regardless of the “hell” it feels we are in, “heaven” is and will always be all around us, conspiring towards our joy and making darkness not dark. Advent is not a time for shopping. It is a time for awakening. If we close our eyes for 20 minutes each morning in Advent’s darkness, with a good cup of coffee or tea, we will begin to see that the “heavenly hosts” are here, not up there.