A few years ago, I became aware of the time in the Christian calendar known as Advent. What most of us think of as Christmastime/tide actually happens after the birth of Christ. The time before, despite shop windows and Christmas carols on the radio from the instant you fall into your post-Thanksgiving turkey snooze, is actually Advent. Technically Advent started last Sunday, but I’m not one to get too semantic… about this anyway.
I was introduced to what Advent was all about during a beautiful message during a Christmas Carols and Lessons service at the National Cathedral, where I was singing at the time. The message was full of meaning, but one thing that stuck out for me was the description of Advent as the “almost, but not yet” of God. That which is promised and hoped for, but not yet here. What do we do in the waiting? How do we make the waiting an exquisite practice of faith?
Since that message I have learned more, that Advent is intended as the clearing away, the getting quiet, the preparing, for (re)birth and renewal. Like the blowing out of all the air in your lungs so you can take a deep, nourishing breath. KonMari for the soul. In the U.S. it unfortunately coincides with the hustle and bustle rush up to the holiday, leaving many if not most of us reeling from meal to meal, gift to gift, not really feeling any of it until we arrive exhausted and spent at the new year, vowing austerity and abstention.
What if it didn’t have to be like that? What if instead we got quiet and still, even in the midst of the madness, and breathed out, instead of sucking more in, in, in? What if we resisted the urge to do more, make more, find more time, and fit more into a day already too packed? What if we lived in the discomfort of the almost, but not yet?
This year has been a slog, I grant you. I don’t blame any of us for wishing it over and done with as fast as humanly possible. But I worry in the wishing we are missing it. The opportunity to get clear on what we want to carry into the next year, and leave behind in this one. So how do we resist, when everything is rushing us inexorably forward?
That’s what I plan to explore here, hopefully with you, over the next two short weeks of Advent. It’s a shorter season than usual this year, which just seems like a cruelty that’s part for the course of 2017, but no matter. We will do our best.
I’m starting with a practice of prayer. It’s been said that prayer is talking to God, and meditation is listening to God. But I think prayer can be both-an active conversation with the Divine. Now before you worry too much, I’m not hearing voices or anything. Just when I do-finally-let myself get quiet, I often find the answer to my question bubbles up like I always knew it.
And yet-I resist it. I spend so many minutes of my day in noise. I resist the quiet. I fight it. I run from it. And in doing so, I avoid prayer. I avoid that conversation with the Divine. Why? I’ve shared with you all openly about my faith and its place in my life. But prayer-woof. In the past few years it has gone so far to the back burner, it’s basically in the fridge. I know people who are reflexive in their prayer-it is the first tool for which they reach. For me, it’s the absolute last, I’ve-tried-everything-else, final, desperate thing I call upon-and sometimes not even then.
I think it’s because I don’t want to hear the answers. It’s the same reason I haven’t been writing much, in this year where I could have said so much. Give me time to actually get quiet and process this year of shit and I’m not sure I can handle the amount of rage and sadness that simmers just behind my smile.
But that’s what Advent calls us to do. Clear it out. Deal with it. Get it out in the open and out of the way so that you can make beautiful, clear space for what’s coming. Because Christ makes space, he will fit into any space available. He fit into a manger. You’ve just got to make a little, tiny, bit of room.