Saturday, December 04, 2021

A time for way-finding


As soon as the first Sunday of Advent dawns, I feel as if Christmas is already pounding at the kitchen door, demanding to be let in. Boxes piled high in her arms, she’s humming Unto Us a Child Is Born, trailing tinsel and lights and a long list of “must be dones” behind her. Wait, I say, my back to the door. I have other plans for Advent.  I always do. 

I plan to sit, to stay, to wait. I love to linger in these enclosed days where the sun is struggling to get above the trees. I yearn to stand outside in the sharp night air and watch the stars burn and the planets serenely transit the sky, knowing that God has counted us all. I covet time to soak in the readings from Isaiah that sing of breathtaking possibilities, of a God set down in the midst of his weary, war-torn people, pulling us by the hand out of darkness. I hunger for time to pray. 

The reality is my Advent plans inevitably collapse under the weight of the year’s end. My office is crowded with students hoping I can help them pull their grades up, while piles of papers to mark threaten an avalanche on my desk. Isaiah waits hopefully on the chair in the corner, along with my lunch. I promise myself a few minutes after Sunday Mass to sit with God in the warm stillness of my parish church, but the nave is alive with rehearsing angels and shepherds and wise men. Dear God. That’s about as far as I get. Dear God, I sigh, and wait, still thirsting for what I cannot quite grasp. 

After all these years, it’s starting to dawn on me that perhaps these unsettled Advents are the plan. The season asks not that I wait, placidly or otherwise, for the inevitable arrival of Christmas day, but it demands I acknowledge why I cannot settle patiently for what is here and now. My soul is thirsting for God, the God of my life; when can I enter and see the face of God?  Like the psalmist, I ache to see the unveiled face of God, to plunge into depths that my beloved winter skies only hint at. 

Advent isn’t a season of the present, no matter how demanding the to-do list, or of the past, as dazzling the miracle of God come among us was and is. Advent is a time for way-finding, a glimpse of our destination. 

I’m reminded of T. S. Eliot’s Magi, who had a hard time of it, battling refractory camels and inhospitable towns. I imagine them returning to their homes, leaning into the wind, knee deep in slush and mud, never again at ease.

Advent isn’t calling me to linger, but to lean into the chaos, to live on the road, plans never firm, never quite settled. We are all milling about, like those tiny angels and shepherds, rehearsing for an encounter we only dare to imagine. Dear God, this is the people who long to see your face. 


Michelle M. Francl-Donnay. From Give Us This Day, December 2018.


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