We love conspiracy theories, don’t we? It’s built into us to look for meaning in a seemin
gly meaningless world. And if something awful has happened, something we want an explanation for, then we’re going to go look for meaning. And conspiracy theories are one of the most fun and exciting ways to give that meaning and to try to fulfill our sometimes rather unhealthy curiosity.
But at the heart of conspiracy is something being done in secret. And our unhealthy curiosity will not let certain things stay secret. We have to know right now what is hiding in the shadows, we have to know right now whom to blame, we have to know who’s behind our misery and confusion.
But the very word conspiracy doesn’t literally mean secret. It comes from a word meaning agreement, as in people who are in agreement working together, behind the scenes. But the root of the word itself comes from the Latin conspirare, to breathe together. It’s like the word inspire, inspirare, to breathe into. This conspiracy, this agreement comes from sharing the same breath.
So it is we can say, as we continue to prepare for Christmas, that God has conspired with us. It’s not because He has entered into His own creation in a seemingly secret way, that He was born into a particular time and place, to a seemingly insignificant people, not into a palace and earthly kingship, but into a manger and wrapped in swaddling clothes. No, God conspires with us because now we share His breath. The Son of God was born as a man so that men and women can become sons and daughters of God, and share His breath and His heartbeat.
While the Nativity is so new and different, this way God chose to conspire with His own creation, He had been sharing His breath with us in so many ways before the Nativity. He had shared His breath and His voice with the prophets. The prophets were not necessarily men and women who told the future. They are people who spoke with God’s voice, when God so desired to call His people back to His breath, His heartbeat.
And there is something incredible that happens in our Responsorial Psalm on Gaudéte Sunday. Mary prophesies. She Has the heartbeat of God in her womb. And now she has the voice of God on her lips. Here is this young woman, probably a teenager, proclaiming a world turned upside down—that the Lord has shown the strength of His arm, and the proud have been scattered in their conceit; the mighty have been cast down from their thrones, and the lowly have been lifted up; that the rich are sent away empty, and the hungry have been filled with good things. In her prophetic voice, notice she does not proclaim that this will happen. She is proclaiming that this has already happened by the mere fact of the Incarnation, that God has shared His breath with us.
But what I’ve been challenged by most in this prophecy from Mary is just whom she is talking about when the mighty are cast down and the lowly are lifted up. I’ve always though that she was prophesying about someone else, not me. I can’t wait to see the unjust and the mighty, my enemies, thrown down! But for years now, praying this prayer every day as a part of the Liturgy of the Hours, I’ve been bothered by it little bit by little bit. And I’ve now realized why: What if I am the mighty to be cast down from the thrones I’ve built up? What if I’m the rich sent away empty, while the Lord fills the hungry with what I’ve left behind?
But then I realize this could be a great grace—to be cast down from corrupting power and sent away from the riches that make me love everything except God and His poor. This is God’s great conspiracy—this is how we learn to breathe with Him. To cast down our thrones and lift up the lowly and fill the poor with our riches.
So I’ve come across this movement called the Advent Conspiracy, which invites us to breathe with God as He is born in Bethlehem, as He comes to us in our worship, and as we wait for Him to come again in glory:
Everyone wants Christmas to be meaningful. But instead it becomes shop, shop, shop, credit cards, traffic jams, to do lists, useless gifts…Then off to Church. Noel, Noel, Noel! Sometimes we’re just glad to survive it. Did you know Americans spend $450 billion on Christmas every year? So we ask: How did Jesus celebrate? Jesus gave Himself relationally, Incarnation, time, space, presence (do you see where this is going?) What if you bought fewer gifts? That sweater she won’t like, that random gift certificate, that toy he doesn’t need. And then instead of buying that gift, give something valuable, like your time: talk, eat, sled, bake, bike, read, together. Make gifts (like when you were a kid), and remember that money you didn’t spend, what if you gave some of it away? The poor, the hurting, the lonely, the hungry, the sick, the thirsty. Lack of clean drinking water kills more people everyday that almost anything. And here’s the thing: the estimated cost to make clean water available to everyone is $20 billion. $20 billion for clean water—$450 billion for Christmas! Do you see what could happen? Let’s face it, consumerism does not equal happiness, memories, meaning. Spend less on gifts, give more presence, love like Jesus. It began with worship [the Magi]. It begins with worship [in the Eucharist]. Worship fully, spend less, give more, love all. This is the season of Advent. You are free to worship, to live, to breathe, to give, to laugh, to celebrate, to conspire.
Now, I know the more we can pump into our ailing economy, the better it might be at the moment. But seriously, if our decision not to do what we can to make available the simplest need, clean water, is because our economy can’t handle it, then we’re not listening to Mary, and we are the mighty that have already been cast down and the rich who’ve already been sent away. So may we accept the grace that comes with being cast down and sent away in our pride, so that we may become the lowly lifted up and the hungry filled with good things. That’s what it looks like to conspire with God.