The Longest Night

Date posted: Thursday 15 December 2016

With arctic winds howling and snows storms en route, winter is at the door here in Minnesota. It officially arrives next Wednesday when the winter solstice marks the longest night of the year. Liturgically, according to the church calendar, we are deep into the season of Advent - a time of stillness and hope. For me, and for many, the two are closely intertwined.
 
It wasn't until I served as an Intern Pastor at Luther House Chapel in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia that I learned how seasonally affected my worship life was (and still is). As the soft December light falls across a frozen University Avenue, I offer the following reflection from the tropics for your own consideration:
 
1 December 2009
 
Advent started on Sunday. I celebrated the start of the liturgical season and the new church year with a family here in Petaling Jaya... As part of being/doing the pastor-thing, I was called on to give the short Advent reflection that night and found myself at a lack of words . . . seasonally and liturgically adrift.
 
The language and texts and symbols of Advent (at least those that I'm familiar with and that are practiced here) have to do with the flickering lights of hope, peace, joy, and love in the face of growing darkness or the warmth of promised and incarnate grace standing in opposition to icy cold storms of judgment and threatened damnation.
 
At home in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Connecticut or in my familial homelands of Denmark, Germany, and Britain this all makes sense - the Word bound in language and symbols matches the temperament and temperature of the World into which it is proclaimed. The season within the church reflects and is reinforced by the season without.
 
Here in Malaysia, with the constant heat and humidity that makes the tropics more or less timeless, I sense a disconnect. The Liturgical language speaks of growing darkness and yet the sun still rises and sets around 7:10 AM and PM. The cold and the death that are ushered in with the first deep freeze are far removed physically, psychologically, and spiritually - replaced by repeating cycles of same-ness.
 
This felt disconnect reminds me, in broad strokes, of how deeply Christendom's historic centering in the Global North has affected its worldwide patterns of worship and its ways of ordering time.... At times lately I've been wondering what might have been if the Church's patterns of worship were equatorial in orientation . . . how might the cyclical same-ness of the tropical environment be reflected in the church calendar? or if it was a Southern phenomenon . . . would our seasons be completely reversed?
 
As we bundle ourselves up and huddle against the cold, our companions in Iringa are experiencing the first few drops of the rainy season. They are gathering seeds and readying the fields to be planted. I wonder what Advent looks and sounds like for them. In what ways does the Word match the temperament and temperature of their world into which it is proclaimed as well?
 
Yours in the wondering,
-peter


The Rev. Peter Harrits, Director of Bega Kwa Bega and Assistant to the Bishop

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