While the outer world swirls in materialistic holiday frenzy as a preparation for Christmas, the spiritual season of Advent is the antithesis of the external festivities filling up our collective calendars. Advent is a season of trials, of preparation, ultimately for making room within our hearts for the Christ.
When we become Christian Initiates, numerous trials must be met and overcome in order to develop moral qualities sufficient for personal evolution and conscious union with the Divine. The microcosm of these trials is the first three weeks of Advent. The first week of Advent is the time of what is called the "Fire Trial." According to Rudolf Steiner, the Fire Trial is understood by witnessing people who have undergone difficult experiences that result in courage, endurance and strength in a healthy way, that enables them to bear immense sorrow with a "greatness of soul."
As the world grieves the loss of one of our ages great spiritual and moral leaders, it is fitting that Nelson Mandela would pass into the afterlife during this first week of Advent. He leaves a legacy as a testament to justice, equanimity and the Christian value of forgiveness. He was sentenced to life in prison, and endured 27 years of captivity. What his decades in prison taught him was that prison takes many forms, and that, as he said in his memoirs,
“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison.”
For nearly a third of his life he languished in prison, and yet when he was free, he forged a new nation, basing its transition out of apartheid on the notion of forgiveness.
“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”
Forgiveness is misunderstood by most. One of Christ's last words was asking for forgiveness toward those that were torturing and executing him. Mary could have been filled with hatred and bitterness as she watched her son on the Cross, but we do not hear of this in the Scriptures.
Suffering is the deepest challenge to humanity. It is often sited as the reason why people turn away from God, for how could a benevolent God allow suffering? Suffering opens the heart, creates organs of perception that allow people to perceive the Christ.
Mandela along with Bishop Desmond Tutu established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as a way to heal the racial divides in South Africa which had been in practice since colonial times, but formalized in 1948. Through the commission victims of horrific violence and injustice had the opportunity to tell their stories to their perpetrators, and to come to a sense of peace and reconciliation. It was thought that to simply punish the perpetrators of violence would only further the cycle. People who have participated in this process claim a freedom from their pain.
Mandela endured a Trial by Fire few humans have had to face in their lifetime, but he came out with courage, true freedom and a dedication to make his nation a better place.
May we be inspired by his example during this time of Advent. May we be reminded of what we are capable of, and where our true freedom resides.
True, deep freedom comes from within our hearts and souls, from sorrow and suffering that enables us to perceive the Christ. Freedom comes with forgiveness.
I came of age in the struggles of Apartheid that inspired the world to rally towards justice, and the fall of an oppressive regime without violence, with an aftermath of forgiveness.
May we learn by Mandela's example, that true power comes without weapons, but with freedom of the soul. Rest in peace, Nelson, and thank you for a job well done, oh good and faithful servant.