I was baptized Catholic just over 10 years ago, and the vibrant liturgical calendar, lived in full color with songs for each season, is one of the things I love about being part of centuries-old traditions.
I wanted, back then, to embrace Advent, but the main thing I understood was that I should not put my tree up too early or start listening to Christmas carols too soon. And the mood of the season? Waiting. Right — waiting for Christmas. Being prepared — preparing for Christmas. What’s the big deal? Isn’t that what we’re all doing already?
Since then Advent has been coming back into fashion. And a good thing too, because I am finally getting the idea.
I am enjoying Professor Carol’s Advent Calendar — daily blog posts on art, music, and literature and Advent traditions. (I came to know of Professor Carol through her awesome music/world history curriculum Discovering Music, which among other things made my recent trip to Europe much richer.)
But more than that, something in the Gospel reading from Sunday hit me in a new way this time around (more liturgical calendar magic!). Speaking of the return of the Son of Man, Jesus tells his followers:
Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy
from carousing and drunkenness
and the anxieties of daily life,
and that day catch you by surprise like a trap.
Now I was a little distracted when these words were spoken, because before them the reading was talking about the Son of Man “coming in a cloud” which of course paints a picture in my head that wakes up my not-that-inner skeptic and starts an active mental dialogue that could persist all the way to “Mass is ended go in peace.” But I heard them anyway, and not because I am given to carousing and drunkenness. What I am, much of the time, is tired. Too tired to try.
Which really is OK these days. Effort is for chumps. It’s understood that we’re all so busy and we’re all enlightened beyond the need to “go through the motions” — but it’s the motions that are the point of being here in the first place. I don’t know what giving up looks like in your life, but in mine it means a cluttered house, dirty clothes, haphazard and unhealthy dinners, untended writing projects, great homeschooling ideas left undone while we sit on individual computers. It feels like being out of shape and not getting enough sleep. It sounds like arguing and sharp reactions — mostly “no” — to innocent questions.
While it’s not good to beat yourself up about that kind of stuff, and it’s wise to accept some chaos, there’s a line somewhere, a different line for everyone I assume, and as I sat in the liturgy of the first Sunday of Advent I understood that at some point I had slouched across it and was lingering there a little too long.
And this is what Advent is for. I don’t think anyone has explained it so succinctly for me as Sally Thomas did in a recent blog post:
“I wake up to myself . . . and my reflection in the bathroom mirror of the soul is not pretty. This is always the case, of course, but with the Bridegroom on the way, you notice. So: pinch those cheeks and back to it.”
As any good Latin student knows, “Advent” means “coming to” — something is coming. Something new is on its way, but you have to 1) keep at it without giving up and 2) pay attention. This is, I think, the essence of all my religious/spiritual experiences to date, be they Christian, Buddhist, yogic or other: Wake up, dummy! Open your eyes! Even now something wonderful has started — do you not perceive it?
I have not done so well at passing this newfound insight on to my children. Victoria came home from choir practice complaining that there was no “Hark the Herald Angels,” no “you know, some fa-la-la-la-la?” “What do you mean it’s not Christmastime?” she asks indignantly, and she does not care that Advent waiting looks like taking the one seat when she is frosting Christmas cookies and reminding us daily that we need our tree this weekend. That’s OK. I think Advent is more of a grown-up season anyway. My 9yo lives with eyes wide open much of the time, without much help from me. Me, I need every tool in the box to stay awake and keep seeing what’s in front of my face.