Would you build an ark during Advent?

Fr Paolo Consonni, MCCJ

We begin Advent this year with Jesus reminding us of the story of the flood and Noah’s ark, taken from Genesis. The fear of floods is deeply embedded in our collective psyche, so much so that in many cultures there are ancient mythological stories about a catastrophic flood, usually described as a punishment by the gods. In the past years, the fear of floods has re-emerged because of extreme weather caused by climate change. More than God, we need to blame our lifestyle which is affecting the entire ecosystem and the fragile atmosphere of the planet.

“As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man,” Jesus warns in this Sunday’s Gospel (Mt 24:37-44). “In those days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day that Noah entered the ark. They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away.” Jesus’ strong invitation to “stay awake” and “be prepared” is quite fitting for our times that are filled with uncertainties. Sometimes we act as if, vis-à-vis the many problems affecting humanity, we are all in a state of denial.

Jesus’ words are, however, not about fear, but hope. The flood in Genesis is not about an ending, but a “new beginning” based on God’s promise not to use violence to deal with human wickedness. Noah’s ark stands as the symbol of the possibility of starting anew that God offers to all those who desire it. It is the safe place where life is protected and preserved in spite of all the evil which threatens it.

In the same way, Advent begins with the reminder of the “end of the world”, which is the Second Coming of Christ. This ending is actually a new beginning: the fulfillment of God’s Kingdom. We need to “stay awake” and “be prepared” because the entrance into God’s Kingdom cannot be automatic: it is a grace, which needs to be consciously received, and it requires our full cooperation. Noah needed to build the ark before entering it.

Do we need an ark? Well, beside occasional typhoons which cause flooding in the lower areas of the city, we in Macau are relatively safe from this kind of disaster. But other kinds of flooding are affecting our lives. For instance, we are flooded with commitments which leave very little time for our spiritual and relational life. We are also flooded with negative emotions, which greatly affect our attitudes and our decisions. Sometimes we are overwhelmed by events upon which we have little or no control: a serious sickness, the loss of our job, the departure of a loved one… Then we feel as if we are drowning.

This period of Advent is a good time to build a solid ark so that we might safely sail across the troubled waters of life. Not gasping for air as we rush from one task to another, but going through our daily work breathing deeply and slowly. Not just grabbing any piece of junk simply to stay afloat (shallow relationships, alcohol, social media) but standing on the solid grounds of healthy life principles and good moral choices.

In my personal life, I came to realize that a silent moment of prayer before ending the day is very helpful in preventing emotional floods. First of all, I listen to my body sensations, especially the most uncomfortable ones: pain, stiffness, change in temperature, restlessness, etc. Our bodies always send signals if something within us needs readjustment. Listening to those signals is a good way to recollect our scattered minds and hearts. At the same time, I deepen my breathing: deep, slow inhaling and exhaling clears our minds, calms our hearts and creates silence in our inner self, a silence in which we can meet God. Remember then that the Holy Spirit is God’s breath within us!

I, then, proceed to experience the unpleasant emotions which are flooding my heart and mind: fear, anxiety, sadness, shame, anger. By giving them time to express themselves, I allow those emotions first to emerge (repression is never helpful), then to decrease and hopefully to subside, like sea waves that powerfully wash on the shore but then retreat back into the sea. This process needs to unfold in the safety of God’s presence, in the ark of His Love and His Mercy, which prevents us from drowning in negative thoughts.

Lastly, I can, then, have a clear mind to dialogue with God about the best way to deal with those life issues and discern the best way forward.

Silent prayer is surely the best place to heed Jesus’ invitation to “stay awake” and “be prepared”. May your Advent be a time in which you build your own inner spiritual ark, a safe inner space from where to face life’s challenges and through which navigate towards God’s future, with hope!