A letter from Karla Koll in Guatemala
"But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his son, born of a woman" Galatians 4:4.
People in every culture have developed ways of counting time, of locating themselves and events in the flow of days and years. Their calendar systems combined both linear and cyclical notions of time. Cultures look backward to a real or imagined past as well as forward to a hoped-for future. One of the gifts of living in the multicultural context of Guatemala is to be surrounded by people who experience time in different ways and who follow different calendars.
The ancient Maya made careful observations of the movements of the stars and planets, especially Venus. Their geographical location here in Mesoamerica facilitated observation of the heavens, despite the fact that skies here are overcast for at least six months of the year. The Maya developed a complex and highly accurate system of calendars. Maya sages calculated dates thousands of years into the past and far into the future.
Perhaps you have heard something about the significance of this year, 2012 AD, in the Maya calendar. I want to share with you what the Maya folks among whom I live are saying. In particular, I've been talking with Daniel Caño, a Maya Q'anjob'al who teaches both high school and university classes here in Quetzaltenango. He and his wife, Teresa Leon, have taken theology classes I have taught with CEDEPCA. I have learned much from both of them. Daniel is an ajq'ij, a Maya spiritual guide. He and his family are also active members of the Episcopal Church. Daniel compares participating in two different religious systems with being bilingual. He has two different ways to relate to God. Both fill him with hope and give meaning to his life.
The importance of the 2012 AD date comes from what is called the Long Count, a system of calculating dates that the Maya had in common with other ancient Mesoamerican peoples. The largest unit of time in the Long Count is a B'ak'tun, equivalent to 144,000 days or 400 years of 360 days. During the Classic period (250–900 AD), the Maya carved dates from the Long Count on stelae to commemorate the reigns of rulers in their city states and other events. According to the Maya Long Count, the creation or beginning not of the world but of the current era was on the date that corresponds to August 11, 3114 BC, in our contemporary Western calendar. For the Maya, the number 13 represents completion. Therefore the current era comes to an end at the close of the 13th B'ak'tun on December 21, 2012.
Despite what Hollywood would have us believe, there are no predictions in Maya stelae or surviving texts of catastrophic destruction on this date. It merely marks the end of one era or long cycle and the beginning of another. According to Daniel, the change of cycle is an opportunity to reflect. The turning points between cycles are marked by both destruction and renovation. Daniel points to the destruction the Maya peoples suffered during the 36-year-long war when 440 villages were wiped from the map and more than 200,000 people were murdered. He and others also speak of how human beings have damaged the environment as evidenced by the climate change that accompanies global warming. Destruction in the form of violence and hunger is already part of daily existence on earth. The question becomes whether human beings will take advantage of the opportunity offered by the change in era to live more in harmony with one another and with nature. Daniel says he's looking forward to the new era with hope. On December 21 he and his family will be participating in a fire ceremony to mark the close of the 13th B'ak'tun. Early the next morning they will hold another ceremony to welcome the new era.
The end of the 13th B'ak'tun falls during the season of Advent in the Christian calendar. Advent, not January 1, marks the beginning of the liturgical year for Christians. Advent points us to the past, to the birth of Jesus long ago. Early Christian preaching, quoted in the Letter to the Galatians, affirmed that God's coming among us in Jesus fundamentally altered the course of time. In the 6th century Christians began to count the years from the time of Christ's birth, as we continue to do today.
Advent also calls us to look forward to Christ's coming again. During Advent we are reminded to actively await the coming of God's reign in all its fullness as Christ returns. Advent teaches us to hope again for a future of peace and prepares us to live toward that future as followers of Jesus.
In Guatemala this December there is a convergence of hope. Maya and Christians, together with the many who are both Maya and Christian, are looking toward the future and praying that it will be better than the present. This Advent I pray that we all might be filled with hope and commit ourselves once again to work for a future of peace with justice.
In the hope of God's coming Reign,
Karla Ann Koll
c/o 2490 Marsten Heights
Colorado Springs, CO 80920
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 6
The 2013 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 16
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