And now, the Advent books are back on the shelf, a new calendar is hung, and the rhythms of another year have begun. While there really is no magic to a new year, no automatic reset button that refreshes our outlook and ends our wait, the start of a new year can be enticement to try something new or to dig deeper into the tried and true.
I’ve realized that I need to actually savour the culmination of Advent outside of Christmas as Christmastime itself has little room for contemplation. Not to contemplate the culmination of Advent after giving space to the waiting leaves me with a sense of tasting but not swallowing.
During the Advent season, I had invitations, if you will, to be in spaces that felt out of my league, beyond my abilities. I headed out on a run to both catch and find my breath, and to percolate my thoughts. Maybe because it was during the Advent season, I almost immediately thought of Mary. Mary, this young girl who also had an invitation that most likely felt beyond her know-how, opened herself up both literally and figuratively and said a quiet yes. An act of trust? Richard Rohr writes in his little book of Advent readings (Preparing for Christmas) that Mary would have been largely uneducated and that nothing said at the synagogue would have prepared her for this situation. This situation with its lack of experience, lack of education, and lack of credibility is “an affront to our criteria and way of evaluating authenticity”, says Rohr.
Perhaps theology itself is not the necessary path but simply integrity and courage. ~ Richard Rohr.
It can be easy to think that more experience, more time, more knowledge, will make me more ready and more capable. But maybe those are the wrong mores. While experience, time, and knowledge are necessary and valid, to wait to say yes until I think I have enough of them will probably mean that I’ll stay out of the fray forever. If, like Mary, I can respond with courage and integrity from where I am right now, who knows what may be birthed. The sound of my footfalls on the gravel are a good reminder to me of the necessity and simplicity of the task of putting one foot in front of the other.
Once the Word has become flesh, all the books in the world can’t do justice to it. Nothing less than flesh can now do justice to the meaning of the Word: your flesh, my flesh. ~ N. T. Wright.
This is a none-too-subtle invitation to intertwine my story, my living with that of the incarnation. Words can be pearls, and books are teachers and friends, but our lived out lives, our flesh, are what truly tell the tale of love. And no matter our stature or station, we all tell a tale with our lives – to have that tale laced with that of Love creates a unique masterpiece. Mary was simply living her life in a simple, quiet way, and I doubt that she considered how her openness, her yes, would continue to light an archetypal path for centuries to come. Our own acceptance of an invitation, maybe even before we feel ready, may too have a rippling effect beyond our vantage point.
Patience is a hard discipline…Patience is not a waiting passivity until someone else does something. Patience asks us to live the moment to the fullest, to be completely present to the moment, to taste the here and now, to be where we are. When we are impatient we try to get away from where we are. We behave as if the real thing will happen tomorrow, later and somewhere else. Let’s be patient and trust that the treasure we look for is hidden in the ground on which we stand. ~ Henri Nouwen
Our six-year old granddaughter defined being in the moment or mindfulness as, “not thinking about what I’m having for dinner while I’m eating my lunch”. Living life with that kind of caretaking requires a patience that is upstream of the norm. Nouwen’s words bring together Advent’s waiting and the “treasure we look for” in a way that doesn’t allow me to sit back either in waiting or in arrival. The waiting fuels the treasure hunt, but the treasure fuels further waiting and searching.
So, here we are, having just crossed the threshold of a new calendar year. Can we, like Mary, trust and say yes? Can we live the tale of our lives in a way that brings the hope of the incarnation into our own stories? Can we wait with the kind of patience that has us savouring our lunch that is before us on our plates? And, can we find the treasure that is sitting on our own hearth?