For 2021’s Advent season, we’ll be sharing curated collections of art, short essays, music, and more each Monday. We’re beginning today with Thomas McKenzie’s introduction to his Advent devotional, The Harpooner; Every Moment Holy’s “A Liturgy to Mark the Start of the Christmas Season,” read by Kristyn Getty; and an ink painting by Kyra Hinton called “Remedy,” accompanied by a few words from Kyra about the piece, how it was made, and what it means to her. Enjoy.
Kristyn Getty Reads “A Liturgy to Mark the Start of the Christmas Season” from Doug McKelvey’s Every Moment Holy
“Remedy” by Kyra Hinton
“This piece is a ‘double exposure’ where various layers of my ink paintings shine through each other to create something new. ‘Remedy’ captures the feeling of a rising sun through morning’s misty blanket, of a sunlit wisp lilting up from a warm mug, of the slightest turning heart in anticipation of a hope to come. Maybe not clear, but clearing. Maybe not yet, but soon. Maybe not here, but coming.”
Introduction to The Harpooner by Thomas McKenzie
In his recent memoir, Eugene Peterson compares the life of a pastor to the role of a harpooner on a nineteenth-century whaling ship. A harpooner was the member of the crew whose task was to throw his harpoon at the whale when the ship was close enough. While the rest of the crew struggled against the wind and waves, the harpooner waited, conserving his strength for the perfect moment. Eugene Peterson says it this way:
In Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, there is a turbulent scene in which a whaleboat scuds across a frothing ocean in pursuit of the great white whale, Moby Dick. The sailors are laboring fiercely, every muscle taut, all attention and energy concentrated on the task. The cosmic conflict between good and evil is joined; chaotic sea and demonic sea monster versus the morally outraged man, Captain Ahab. In this boat, however, there is one man who does nothing. He doesn’t hold an oar; he doesn’t perspire; he doesn’t shout. He is languid in the crash and the cursing. This man is the harpooner, quiet and poised, waiting. And this this sentence:”To insure the greatest efficiency in the dart, the harpooners of this world Musgraves start to their feet out of idleness, and not out of toil.” …—Eugene Peterson, The Pastor, pages 281-282
History is a novel of spiritual conflict. The church is a whaleboat. In such a world, noise is inevitable, and immense energy is expended. But if there is no harpooner in the boat, there will be no proper finish to the chase. Or if the harpooner is exhausted, having abandoned his assignment and become an oarsman, he will not be ready and accurate when it is time to throw his javelin…
Somehow it always seems more compelling to assume the work of the oarsman, laboring mightily in a moral cause, throwing our energy into a fray we know has immortal consequence. And it always seems more dramatic to take on the outrage of a Captain Ahab, obsessed with a vision of vengeance and retaliation, brooding over the ancient injury done by the Enemy. There is, though, other important work to do. Someone must throw the dart. Some must be harpooners.
I have on small disagreement with Eugene Peterson. While he sees this as a way of describing the life of a pastor, I see it as a metaphor for the best kind of Christian life.
Life is not about doing great things for God. Most of life is simply about being present, waiting upon the Lord, and responding when we're called.Thomas McKenzie
We are called to live a life of waiting. Of course, there will be moments of strife, and we should be ready for them. But we must resist the voices that say we must be always fighting, always struggling. These voices tempt us to use all our strength in some righteous cause, throwing ourselves against the merciless storm of evil in the world. They lead us to believe that we will conquer our enemies, but the truth is that we will only destroy ourselves. Instead, we must learn the truth that God is the mighty warrior, he is the Victorious One. He is strong enough to conquer the darkness, I am not.
Life is not about doing great things for God. Most of life is simply about being present, waiting upon the Lord, and responding when we’re called. This is what it means to be a harpooner.
Jesus was once asked, “What must we do to do the works God requires? (John 6:28, NIV).” That is the question that most religious people ask. We want to know what we’re supposed to do in order to please God, we want to be acceptable to him. Many of us want a definite list of moral principles that we must obey. Others want to know exactly what doctrines they need to believe. Still others want to be sent into battle against the world and the devil. We want to “take a hill for Jesus,” as I once heard an excited pastor declare.
But the Lord has something different in mind. “Jesus answered them, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent’ (John 6:29, NIV).” The work of God is to trust Jesus. Doing good deeds, believing the right things, and struggling against the temptations of this world are all important. But the one thing God is most interested in is that we simply rest in the love of his Son.
Resting is not laziness. We aren’t called to lie stagnant, like a couch potato vegging out in front of daytime T.V. Quite the opposite. We’re called to rest like a harpooner, strong and prepared to act. Jesus put it this way in Mark’s Gospel:
Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: “Watch!”—Mark 13:33-37 (NIV)
Waiting on the Lord, being on guard until the time to act—this is the theme of Advent. But what does that look like? How do you “watch” in the real world? The purpose of this devotional guide is to help train your soul, to aid the Spirit’s work of forming you into a harpooner.