Blog #99: Advent - a Time for Peace!

December 15, 2022
Monika Weber-Fahr
Advent is beginning to come to its end: This coming Sunday we celebrate the fourth of the Advent Sundays, and thereafter we have only six days left to get ready for Christmas. Last year, the Living Light Blog took the opportunity of Advent to bring you ideas and tips for environmentally friendly approaches to celebrate the most joyous season of all. This year, we will take inspiration from liturgy instead, offering suggestions for honoring the respective liturgical dimension of each of the Advent Sundays through actions that celebrate, reflect on or put us more in touch with God’s creation. One of the overarching themes of Advent is time - it is a special time, a time that is there for us to get ready. And so, true to this theme, each of the blogs will all offer ideas and tips on how we might want to spend some of this very special time in light of the Anglican Fifth Mark of Mission, safeguarding the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth..
Discerning what might be the main theme of the fourth Sunday of Advent turned out a bit difficult. In line with Epistle Roman 1:1-7, that concludes with “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ” some sources say that this Sunday is about Peace. Others point to a focus on Mary, in line with the Sunday’s Gospel: Mathew 1:17-25 speaks to her pregnancy - and it talks about an angel visiting Joseph suggesting that he stand by her, reason for others to call the fourth candle on the Advent Wreath the Angel’s candle, again a symbol of peace, reminding us of the angels' message: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men”.  So for this blog, I am settling on the theme of peace - it’s big enough, as it were, to stand on its own!
Foto: The late Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Laureate, reflected in her Nobel Prize acceptance speech in Stockholm in 2004 on the role of trees as a symbol for peace and conflict resolution, especially during ethnic conflicts in Kenya. 
So what does peace mean - for those of us who care for how we treat our planet and its resources? How to best reflect on this? For me, personally, peace in nature is always symbolized by trees and forests; probably a very personal cultural infliction - indeed, other cultures perceive forests to be dangerous places rather than places of peace, and again others are more focused on parts of nature associated with the sea or the mountains. For me, though, finding and being at peace is all about trees. And I am not alone in associating trees with peace - it is how the Iroquois think of the White Pine Tree, it is how Wangari Maathai framed her work on the Green Belt Movement in Kenya, it is how the Greeks looked a Olive Trees. And then, of course, there are the many meanings of the Christmas Tree itself - in terms of pines, firs, cypresses and the like - including but not limited to peace.  Mythological or not: Positive physical and mental health impacts of spending time close to trees have been well documented by now - in terms of lower blood pressure, lower levels of cortisol, and so on - all associated with peace.
Luck has it that right now - just a few steps from Christ Church in the Jauregasse, the Lower Belvedere has put on a beautiful exhibition that allows us to do just that - reflect on the theme of peace by taking trees as the starting point. The exhibition is called GROW and it takes you on a journey of how trees have featured in art, both contemporary art and art throughout history and mythology - and it includes reflections on the role of trees healing the earth from some of its carbon excesses. The pieces exhibited are quite extraordinary and well worth the visit, ranging from Blossoming Chestnut by Emilie Mediz-Pelikan to Headstanding Totem by Nilbar Güreş. Curated along themes rather than periods or artistic techniques, the visitor gets to reflect on topics such as Grow and Fade, Lose, Act, Breathe and Inspire, all the while also learning - such as about the Norse mythology’s ash tree Yggdrasil, representing the idea of a tree being “central to maintaining the equilibrium of our world”. 

Foto: This picture is part of the exhibition GROW at the Belvedere, and while I do not remember the artist the visual stayed with me. I took these hands and feet to symbolize how we all need to contribute, with hands and feet, to help build peace with nature going forward

Yes, this is an art exhibition - but it also relates very much to and reflects on the current and tough political and economic struggles that threaten the peaceful coexistence of trees and humankind. Most of us will know of the central role that trees will have to play in the earth’s future recovery from our over-reliance on fossil fuels: Healthy forests are currently the most cost-effective technology for carbon removal and storage. And yet, despite the relevance of trees - in the mythical, cultural, personal health and planetary health domains: We see deforestation proceeding globally, with some five million hectares of forest land lost every year, mostly in the southern hemisphere, a theme also reflected in the exhibition. This is all very timely, of course, considering that right now - until December 19 - the Global Biodiversity Conference currently underway in Montreal is looking to define global goals that would include, similar to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, setting concrete goals such as a goal to turn 30 percent of the world’s land into protected areas.
So, let’s take some time this week, in celebrating the Fourth Sunday in Advent, for an environmentally inspired reflection on peace! Let’s go for a stroll underneath the mighty trees of the Prater or the Botanical Garden, visit the exhibition GROW at the Lower Belvedere or enjoy other pieces of art that include trees. Get inspired! And let’s use this precious time during Advent as a way to get ready - for Christmas, yes, but also for the practices that we will all want to adopt more of - so that, as the Anglican Church’s Fifth Mark of Mission says, we can help “safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth”.
Feeling inspired? Want to contribute? Remark on or question something? Please send thoughts about or suggestions for the Living Light Blog to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
P.S. The exhibition at the Belvedere closes on January 8, so hurry if you'd like to still see it.