ADVENT: God’s Victorious Light
Equanimity and Equality
by the Rev. Brian C. Taylor
I’ve always struggled a bit with Isaiah’s prophecy that comes to us in this season through George Frederic Handel and John the Baptist.
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked ways shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth.
But I like crooked paths, deep valleys, high mesas, and rough roads. Isaiah’s vision of salvation sounds more like a freeway cutting through Kansas. In fact, I wouldn’t want my emotional life to be a flatland either, with all the rough places made smooth, the valleys lifted up and the hills brought down.
But I don’t think this is what Isaiah or John the Baptist had in mind. The passage begins with this: Prepare the way of the Lord. And how do we do that? In every spiritual tradition, there is an acknowledgment that before we can grow in spirit, we may first have to learn to settle down.
One who meditates has to learn how not to be a victim of the tempests of desire and aversion. Just be still, focus on the breath, we are told, and those storms will subside. A recovering alcoholic must first stop drinking in order to move from the insanity of a chaotic alcoholic lifestyle to the sanity of a sober one. It is only then that growth in recovery can begin. In any spiritual or religious tradition, we must learn some measure of equanimity as a way of preparing the way of the Lord.
And as we continue in the spiritual path, equanimity increases. Now equanimity is not a loss of emotion, a detached flatness. It is the ability to move through our highs and lows with perspective. It is the inner knowledge that while this excitement or that sorrow is currently gripping us, it is impermanent, and there is another level that is eternal, stable, unchanging. With equanimity, we are no longer victims of circumstance. We are grounded, even as we traverse life’s hills and valleys.
But there is another dimension to which Isaiah’s prophecy speaks: the social, the political. It is what Mary also spoke of in the Magnificat:
You have shown strength with your arm
and scattered the proud in their conceit,
Casting down the mighty from their thrones
and lifting up the lowly.
You have filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty.
This is the same social and political message of Jesus when he spoke of the last being first and the first being last, that the meek will inherit the earth.
These are not just words about heaven, or the second coming. They are what we are asked to do in order to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord in the here and now. And so the way we vote, our advocacy for the marginalized, the time and money we put towards social causes — these are ways to fill valleys and level mountains, so there is more equality, and–dare I say it–a redistribution of wealth and other resources. This is not class warfare as some claim, but a fulfillment of the vision of the prophets, the Virgin Mary, and Jesus himself.
We prepare for God’s appearance in this earthly realm by leveling the playing field socially, politically, and economically. Because wherever God’s people are not held in place by systemic advantage and disadvantage, we see them blossom and become the people God created them to be. Women become priests; a kid from the projects becomes a scientist; a man can marry the man he has dedicated his life to; an African village with clean water and mosquito netting can become a place of life instead of death. We prepare for God’s coming by leveling this world’s inequalities.
And so during this month, we prepare for God’s coming as the Christ child. We seek equanimity in the spiritual and emotional dimension, that we may be settled down enough to greet the coming one. And we seek equality in the social and political dimension, that the world may see the justice of God’s reign on earth.