On my post-Thanksgiving flight home to Mississippi last Saturday, I finished a book by Robert A. Johnson that introduced me to a medieval Christian symbol that I had never known before: the mandorla. The mandorla is not the same as a mandala, the circular buddhist motif popularized in the West over the past several years by their frequency in coloring books for grownups. Instead, the mandorla is the simple shape formed when two circles overlap forming an almond shaped section between (mandorla is also Italian for almond). The mandorla is known by other names in other disciplines, such as the Venn diagram in logic or the vescia piscis in mathematics.
The two circles that make up the mandorla can symbolize an infinite number of dualities: light and darkness, ego and shadow, good and evil. However, in this season of Advent, I see the two circles of the mandorla and consider the Kingdom of God and our earthly, human journey. For Advent is not solely about awaiting the birth of Jesus, but also, and equally important, anticipating the second coming of Christ. If we consider the season, we find ourselves between God’s Kingdom and our reality, trying to mentally and spiritually balance the two places, the two circles of a mandorla.
However, while we humans know a lot about our reality, we don’t know much about God’s Kingdom. Our Wednesday Morning Bible Study has been studying angels for the past several weeks, and we have barely scratched the surface. And yet as Christians, according to the Catechism (p. 856 of the Book of Common Prayer), our duty is, “to follow Christ; to come together week by week for corporate worship; and to work, pray, and give for the spread of the kingdom of God.” We know earth – one circle – but we are tasked with spreading the Good News of the Kingdom – the other circle. So how do we do this?
Thankfully, we have a mentor and helper in this task and he is Jesus Christ. For through the person and ministry of Jesus, we encounter God and our journey and God’s Kingdom intersect – the center, almond-shaped section of our mandorla. The first Christians knew this and this is why they adopted the ichthys, the almond-shaped fish as their symbol. Writers of illuminated manuscripts often depicted Christ, or the Virgin Mary, within an almond. And diocesan and university seals, like our Diocese of Mississippi, are oft shaped like almonds for the same reason.
Our Advent calendar instructs us to, “slow down. Quiet. It’s Advent.” But when we do slow down, and if we do find some quiet, what do we do? We can consider how our journey has encountered God. We can pray about how we are called to live in this place as well as herald God’s Kingdom. And, we can just be in that space and allow our reality and God’s reality to mingle. These are not easy tasks, and sometimes we only find such space partially, or only for a moment. But when we do, we will realize what the angels will declare again, in only a couple of weeks, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace.”