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“Watch yourselves, or your hearts will be coarsened with debauchery and drunkenness and the cares of life … Stay awake, praying at all times for the strength to survive all that is going to happen, and to stand with confidence before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:24; 36)—Thus proclaims the theme for the First Sunday in Advent; its dire words startle, if anyone is listening

Like first-century Palestine, the setting for this mandate, our times are rife with turmoil, with reversals in values, with rampant greed, with untoward events that decry expression. Covert and overt oppression hold people hostage. Homelessness, actual or psychological, sours hearts. Indeed, whole cityscapes appear inert, frozen in toxic fears. And Black Friday’s madness launched the shopping craze until the eve of Christmas. This scenario, ramped up by devotees of Evil, continues emasculating spirit, year after year.

Yet there is another voice that rings through the centuries: ”Watch yourselves …” To heed its imperative toward conversion of life requires humility, prayer, and selflessness. Through the practice of these disciplines emerge stalwart hearts, clear vision, and unflinching truth. That’s what really matters.

But such disciplines are counter-cultural, many protest. I’d much rather hang out with my buddies at the bar or go shopping. That’s where real life happens.

Yet the challenge remains: to go apart, alone, in silence, and see whom we meet.

It works. It really does.

 

 

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We’re all inclined to stash: the catch-all drawer in the study; the jammed shelves in the front hall closet; the rusting bikes and tools in the garage; the dusky trunks in the attic; the bulging sacks in the basement; the faded shed in the backyard; the discolored boxes stashed in the annex; the stacks of recipes from House and Garden magazines bundled in the kitchen cupboards.

What compels us to hoard stuff we think we’ll use someday, especially when that “someday” rarely arrives?

A similar clutter can also occur in our psyches vacuuming social media for titillation, engorging the latest scandal from The Hill or undigested trivia, staring down our neighbor’s excesses—even Broadway productions of festering resentments.

And then we wonder why we seek medical or psychiatric attention: pills to fix us, an injection to mellow us, or even surgery to cut out the disorder.

Can it be about mindlessness?

There is a response to this disorder offered by a wise friend: “If in doubt, out!”

 

 

The Mysteries of China, one of the offerings screened at the St. Louis Omnimax, affords a long look into the past: the year is 201 B.C., the death of Qin Shi Huang, the first self-styled emperor of a unified China. A military genius, a ruthless tyrant, steeped in the blood of warring states around him, he created multiple enemies who wanted him dead. Within the protection of his generals, however, he carried on his economic and social reforms and had slaves build the national road system and the Great Wall; of no consequence were the deaths of thousands engaged in these labors.

But not so for himself.

Terror of dying compelled him to search the known world for an elixir of life. Paradoxically, the mercury potion prepared by Chinese alchemists caused his death when forty-nine years old.

Yet, Qin Shi Huang did begin preparing for this eventuality after his accession to the throne. Thousands of laborers constructed a necropolis with an underground palace and a life-sized terracotta army of eight thousand, each with a unique face, together with one hundred and thirty chariots and five hundred and twenty horses. Only in 1974 did farmers, digging a well in Lintong District, Xi’an, Shaanxi province, happened upon this phenomenon. Whatever was to come, Qin Shi Huang would be protected, or so he thought.

Such ostentatious funereal sites give me pause. They are are still around.

 

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