preparation

Prophetic Invitation

There’s something fresh about turning the calendar page over to December. Just like there’s something fresh about the first week of a new Advent. In many ways it’s a blank slate—as we ease into the most celebrated month of the year, December eases in quietly with its pinkish sunrises and orange-purple afternoons. Like the Holy Spirit, Advent moves quietly into our lives, waiting to be known. A whole year has steadily crept by while we attended to the things that required our attention, and we have returned to this familiar place once again.

Like a painter imagining the first strokes on a new canvas, or a child who’s awakened to a fresh blanket of snow. What now?! (And this is the challenge, isn’t it?)To overthink our approach to this fresh and beautiful season, is to skim over the preciousness of its newness, yet to plow forward with no intentionality is to miss the point entirely.

So where’s the in-between? [Here’s the good news.]

Advent as a season IS the in-between. We’re awaiting the already and not yet. Preparing ourselves for the arrival of the Word made flesh. Our willingness to step foot into the newness that is

Honor the space between no longer and not yet. –Nancy Levin

Advent is special precisely because it is that ripe place of no longer and not yet. We become something new in the in-betweeness of this growing place. When we allow our hearts to be melded by expectation, hope and the possibility of the incarnation we cannot help but be changed into something new.

The Prophet Isaiah describes the transformative scene:

All nations shall stream toward it;

many peoples shall come and say:

"Come, let us climb the LORD's mountain,

to the house of the God of Jacob,

That he may instruct us in his ways,

and we may walk in his paths."

For from Zion shall go forth instruction,

and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

He shall judge between the nations,

and impose terms on many peoples.

They shall beat their swords into plowshares

and their spears into pruning hooks;

One nation shall not raise the sword against another,

nor shall they train for war again. –Is. 2:3-5

We know from experience that the prophets represent a voice in the wilderness, a lonely voice in the crowd. This continues to be the case. As Christians we feel the tidal wave of Christmas hoopla creeping into this Advent time of preparation, blurring the distinction between our time for readying our hearts and allowing our hearts to embrace the waiting. As Ronald Rolheiser describes:

“Celebration is a paradoxical thing, created by a dynamic interplay between anticipation and fulfillment, longing and inconsummation, the ordinary and the special, work and play. Life and love must be celebrated within a certain fast-feast rhythm. Seasons of play most profitably follow seasons of work, seasons of consummation are heightened by seasons of longing, and seasons of intimacy grow out of seasons of solitude. Presence depends upon absence, intimacy upon solitude, play upon work. Even God rested only after working for six days!”

Culturally we can anticipate a feast, but we have lost the art of sustaining it. If we are to get back to the practice of feasting as a celebration of the arrival of the Christ child, our posture of preparation must look prophetic in a way that stands alone in the cultural Christmas explosion that begins in early November.

Each of us is called to this place of preparation in a way that is distinct. The important part is not what that preparatory posture looks like, only that we find a method to sustain that preparation. Resources for these kinds of preparations abound (and it’s never too late to begin). Little Blue books, Blessed Is She Advent journal, USCCB, Creighton University’s Praying Advent, etc. Find a practice that suits you and allow the work of the season to flourish within prophetic witness.

Advent or Otherwise

I am still adjusting to the changing patterns of light, compliments of daylight savings time: Beautiful, slow and distant in the morning, short and sweet in the evening. For as much as my body is fighting it, I can feel my soul inching closer to that first Sunday of Advent, almost begging for the first flicker of light. I’ve been sitting quite a bit with Saint Teresa of Calcutta’s words, ‘Come be my light’ through these past few tumultuous weeks. As beautiful a season as Advent is, I know I need not wait for a change in the Liturgical year to signal my deep need for the Light of Christ to dispel the darkness at hand—and yet it is so rich.

Growing up in Minnesota there was a regional photographer whose work was sort of iconic in DNR offices, Girl Scout camps and classrooms, alike. He was a retired National Geographic photographer who had taken to photographing wildlife in Northern Minnesota as a hobby. His most famous project is called ‘Chased by Light.’ This has since been published into a book, but it is his self-imposed challenge to take one picture a day for a summer in the boundary waters and the photos are stunning!

I also think he is on to something, spiritually.

This idea of chasing and being chased by light has captivated my imagination lately. Because we are far less likely to see the light when we are not looking for it—longing for it, waiting for it, particularly in the times we see so much less of it. Why not chase it? Why not position ourselves as closely as possible to the bringer of light, who is already with us, chasing us and not yet come? Advent or otherwise.

I think what I most appreciate about this metaphor is the activity assumed therein. As chasers of Light, we are not mere bystanders lifting our eyes in interest, half-hearted attendees feigning interest in something in which we have no investment in its outcome, but instead we are whole-hearted participants unwilling to distance ourselves from the event that informs our very dignity—the Incarnation. 

This approach to Advent is one I would like to try in a new way this year. At a time when the dignity of so many has come into question, the Christ child comes as a reminder that God does dwell among us, and in unlikely places. Advent or otherwise, we too are called to be a light in the darkness (John 1: 5).

Surely if there was a time when the world is seeking a hopeful light, that time is now.

The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
— John 1:5