I must admit to having a fair amount of writer’s block lately. I have started any number of texts for various purposes and discarded them. In one case, I even pulled back something that was about to be published. I can’t even find enough inspiration wordsmithing to finish the personnel handbook revision that is more than overdue.
Perhaps it is just the hustle and bustle of seasonal preparations and concert preparations; I am not sure. Maybe my eyes have been closed for other reasons (for it is with the eyes and and ears and the heart that we write, I believe); maybe my ears have been resting. Maybe my thoughts have been just too internal to commit to words. Maybe I haven’t read enough to feed my creativity. Maybe I just haven’t had anything to say.
But Advent is a very special time to me, and writing is an important part of my journey, and so over this past week since the lighting of that first candle, the candle of hope, I have been trying again. This, if you see it, is my fourth attempt to set pen to paper, in a blog-o-sphere kind of way.
In light of the season and the new liturgical year (Year B, for those keeping track), it may not be surprising, but I’m thinking a lot about ritual. Maybe it is all the talk of the changes to the Catholic Mass that began last Sunday, maybe it is just that it is the season of accepted ritual, both personal and corporate — gatherings, trees, shopping, and, well, Advent and Christmas and New Years. With everything that is going on around us, it is easy to forget to be in the moment that you are living right now.
And so, in order to prevent that from happening, I always have a private seasonal ritual for myself…something that I can do day-by-day in a quiet moment, to center and sustain me through the busy-ness. This Advent, as in the Lenten season past, I have chosen a compilation of the writings of Evelyn Underhill to guide me (Advent with Evelyn Underhill, ed. by Christopher L. Webber).
For the past few weeks, I was spending a substantial time working with the Lectionary texts for the first Sunday Advent (because of something else I was trying to write), and well, I just couldn’t really get them clear in my mind. I must admit, hope was the last thing I was feeling as I read them, and as I moved through the days of my weeks.
Until the words of Ms. Underhill, that is.
Last week, our texts were: Isaiah 64:1-9, Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19, 1 Corinthians 1:3-9., and Mark 13:24-37 (Yes, for those of you at Calvary who were paying attention, we did use an alternate Psalm text, Psalm 42).
The sum of these texts is, for me, so much more complex than the concept of hope, and in their complexity, so very human. When taken as whole, they emphasize not just the hope and anticipation of the season, but the state of despair that makes it possible for us to see that hope. If you have ever participated in a “Blue Service”, you will understand what I mean. Frankly, if you are human and have suffered the disappointments and losses that are the human condition, you understand what I mean. Hope never looks more precious than when you feel that you have none.
There is nothing that points up the presence of pain and loss like finding yourself in the midst of manic and unbridled celebration such as that which is the cultural norm for the Christmas season in secular American culture. Just trying to keep up with the round of obligations, trying to keep that smile on your face through exhaustion or loss or financial problems…I think we all understand. Hope almost never feels so far from our grasp.
These texts echo our own complex relationship with hope in our lives; they point out that it is easier to embrace the all-too-human hopelessness that pervades everything around us than it is to hold on to the hope and the promise born of our relationship with God.
And so, enter Ms. Underhill, to remind us that whether or not we know it, hope is always there for us:
We should think of the whole power and splendour of God as always pressing in upon our small souls. ‘In Him we live and move and have our being.’ But that power and splendour mostly reach us in homely and inconspicuous ways; in the sacraments, and in our prayers, joys and sorrows and in all our opportunities of loving service. This means that one of the most important things in our prayers is the eagerness and confidence with which we throw ourselves open to His perpetual coming. …If our lives are ruled by this spirit of Advent, this loving expectation of God, they will have a quality quite different from that of conventional piety. For they will be centered on an entire andconscious dependence upon the supernatural love which supports us; hence all self-confidence will be destroyed in them and replaced by perfect confidence in God. (pg. 3-4)
It was there in the Lectionary and I just didn’t see it: the despair of the Hebrew text and the Psalm, tinged with the remembrance that once upon a time in Israel there was a special relationship with God that offerred protection and safety; Paul’s reminders of the spiritual gifts that the Corinthians always had among them and in them; and the Gospel of Mark’s statement of the glory of the coming grace that, as Ms. Underhill so beautifully states, comes when all self-confidence will be destroyed in them and replaced by perfect confidence in God.
God is not Emmanual (God with us) only during Advent. We no longer wait for the birth of an actual child. We, my friends, are called to live in a state of perpetual coming.
Ah, hope…I see your candle now.