There's an ironic smile hovering in the air after the haggling in Durban, South Africa. Negotiators at the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change hoarded in a season of giving; they quibbled over interests while kids sang carols about an Absolute Being surrendering divinity's power. They bluffed, postured and emerged with a face-saving compromise promising future negotiations and belated legal enforcement by 2020. Maybe they convinced themselves they were playing penny-ante poker while they loaded the gun for Russian roulette and aimed it at civilization's head.
Most astonishing, domestic pressure rendered this the best agreement possible.
I wonder: Would it have made any difference if everyone remembered the season? It was Advent, which was originally slated for Lent-like examination, confession, repentance, prayer and fasting. Activists would join contemplatives in the ancient disciplines of stillness, meditation and contemplation -- all of which would kindle a cool fire enflamed with contentment, resolve, conviction and compassion. We'd be peaceful enthusiasts, free from the allure of gaudy knick-knacks forged from the fossils' ooze and eager for self-surrender.
Maybe we should free the historical Advent from its cage and designate 2012 as the "Advent Year," with December serving as the ascetic climax.
Suddenly the "interests" roar: Our sputtering economy will collapse; our malls will mutate into eerie ghost villages forever replaying Petula Clark's "Downtown." Retailers bank on Advent's captivity: 25 to 40 percent of their sales hinge on a winter-time spending spree -- so re-fasten the locks on the kidnap victim's pen and form triage units for next year's pepper spray sufferers. We feel for them, of course, but these are the days of collateral damage.
But deceleration is inevitable. We face a choice: Will we volunteer for a resurgent, spirit-enriching slow down or will we keep spinning the cylinder and cocking the gun? Our lubricant is running dry. Oil greases our entire economy. It's the building block for the debris littering my desk, including my plastic fork and my salad's polystyrene cup. We sweat oil, and indications are it will keep dripping off our nose: The International Energy Agency submitted a gloomy report in Durban showing that world-wide fuel demands "rebounded by a remarkable 5% in 2010, pushing CO2 emissions to a new high." Even worse, the window for effective implementation of sound climate-change policy may soon slam shut: average global temperatures may rise by 6 degrees centigrade or more, far above the agreed-upon goal of a 2-degree increase. In other words, 2020 is too late.
So which will it be? Our macabre tap dance at the edge of cataclysm or Advent's disciplines and their cool fire?
I opt for the latter. The discipline of stillness is the fire's hearth. The noise fades and we catch whispers of the Life behind all life, the one whom Augustine described as the "Absolute Is." We resonate with God's assurance to the psalmist: "Be still and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10). We slowly understand that the ooze's trinkets lure us from the real treasure.
Meditation -- the Hebrew word means "mumbling" or "muttering" -- is the hearth's log. The ancients literally spoke under their breath when they repeated Psalm 1:2: "But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night," or Psalm 119:15: "I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways." They muttered God's instructions; they mumbled over God's works (Psalm 143:5); they murmured over God's wonders (Psalm 119:27). Mutterers strolled between synagogues instead of swaggering between breakout sessions.
And then comes the fire itself: God meets us in contemplation's "gaze of faith" and "silent love." John of the Cross portrayed it this way: "The difference (between meditation and contemplation) ... is like the difference between working, and enjoyment of the fruit of our work; between receiving the gift, and profiting by it; between the toil of traveling and the rest of our journey's end." We marinate in the Holy Spirit and emerge with Christ's convictions and personality. He knew when to be firm and when to be soft. He healed lepers and railed against the Pharisees; he blessed Peter and called him Satan; he loved the rich young ruler and told him to give away all his money.
In his sobering book, "Eaarth," Bill McKibben convincingly argues that we've already exhausted ourselves: The weather is already changing; our frenetic, oil-guzzling culture has already gobbled up entire species. We must slow down. And there lies the opening: The world begs for an Advent people -- a people willing to decelerate, soak in Christ, grasp his convictions and his nature, and bring his character into a hot, crowded, energy-starved world boiling in a noxious alchemy of uncompromising gridlock and indecisiveness.
So free the original Advent from its cage in 2012. Let it roam all year. A silent smile may replace the irony. We'll give the diplomats the mandate they need: Work together. Sacrifice. Back paddle from oblivion's edge.