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Advent finds God 'in the Darkness'
Message of strength, hope offered in new book by Clarke Oler

12/1/2006
[Episcopal News Service]  Veteran Episcopal priest and psychotherapist Clarke K. Oler "calls us to journey inward to our darkest places," notes longtime colleague Gretchen Buckenholz of New York. "That is where we will find holy ground."

Buckenholz, founder and director of the Association to Benefit Children, offers this insight in her endorsement of Oler's new book "God Is in the Darkness: Finding Faith in Troubled Times" (Bartleby Books, 2006, paper, 163 pages) -- a collection of Oler's sermons throughout his 50 years of ordained ministry, notably as rector of Holy Trinity Church, New York City, and All Saints' Church, Beverly Hills, and as associate at All Saints' Church, Pasadena, California.

"I never had any intention of writing a book," Oler, 81, recently told ENS. "But friends said, 'Some of your sermons need to be saved.' My hope is that the book can give comfort and strength for troubled times."

Available through Episcopal Books and Resources (http://www.episcopalbookstore.org/, 800.903.5544), the book takes its name from an Advent sermon that forms the text's second chapter. An excerpt follows:

'God Is in the Darkness'
by Clarke K. Oler, excerpted with permission

"Advent is the beginning of the Church year, a kind of prologue to the Christian story. It is a season of four weeks beginning [often] on the last Sunday in November in which we recall the centuries during which Israel stuggled to understand and come to terms with God. The birth of Jesus is God's answer to their dilemma and despair.

'At another level, Advent is a season in which we reflect upon our own struggle with our own faith, our failure and guilt at loosing touch with God, especially when we need Him most in times of our greatest pain.

"It is not a bright, cheerful season. There is a dark, brooding quality to it. The altar colors have turned to deep purple. ... The music of our Advent services -- often written in minor keys -- has a somber, contemplative quality....

"It is hard for the Church to maintain the somber mood of its Advent services because the tradesmen have stolen Advent. Thanksgiving is barely over when the stores and television are blaring Christmas carols and bedecking themselves in Christmas decorations. It didn't use to be so in earlier times. In the old days, Advent was truly a season of self examination and penitence. And Christmas parties were not held until after Christmas, in the season we call Twelfth Night. When I was a young and foolish priest, I tried to salvage Advent by asking my congregation to hold off on Christmas parties until after Christmas. I almost got run out my parish by outraged parishioners who couldn't believe I would even think of such a thing.

"The central message of Advent is that God is not just a light and the end of a dark tunnel. God is in the dark tunnel with us. In the dark times of our lives we struggle to be faithful to God in spite of doubt and failure and guilt. And we struggle with the pain of grief and fear and illness and personal calamities. It is crucial for us to hold on to the belief that God is with us in those hard times. He doesn't just suddenly show up when things get better....

"God is in the darkness. We cannot wait for the light to come on at Christmas before we choose life. But we know the light is coming. Christ will come, not as a magician to solve our problems, but as a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, bearing in his flesh the cars from the whips and the nail holes in his hands and feet. He will take us by the hand and walk with us through our shadowlands into such a bright dawan as we cannot yet even imagine."

A publisher's biographical sketch notes that while Oler's "formal education includes graduating Yale University, St. John's University and Virginia Theological Seminary, his real education was his observations during his career with IBM and his experiences in World War II. As a communications specialist in the Burma campaign and in the civil unrests of post-war China, he learned that the struggle for peace is a continuing universal process."

Oler and his wife of 54 years, Wendy, have three adult children and reside in Pasadena, California.