Monday, December 6, 2010

Chocolate Calendars and Being Enlarged

Growing up, my only real understanding of the word Advent was undeniably linked to chocolate. Each year, around Thanksgiving, we'd get one of those little cardboard calendars with all the windows in it. And then, each morning from then until Christmas, we'd get to open up one little window and start the day with a piece of, to be quite honest, pretty terrible tasting chocolate. Even though this was not a gourmet experience, I looked forward to it each year. When would we start the advent calendar? When would my door be adorned with a hanging festival of treats destined to rot my teeth and create nervous sugary energy for my first class of the day?

One of the great things about going away to college and getting involved in faith communities of people with varying backgrounds is that you begin to learn about other traditions.  Meeting and living life with so many people of various backgrounds in the past 14 years has shown me that there's so much more to Advent, even beyond all  the quirky family traditions out there.  My church didn't talk much about this current season- sure, we did it up for Christmas Eve, singing all the carols and rejoicing in the Christmas story, but I had no real idea that the season before that glorious night had any real purpose to it.

As a perk to my job I receive a box of books every other month. These are usually new releases from InterVarsity Press- I think the ideas is that as campus ministers we're the best way of getting the word out on a hot new book. So, I'm supposed to read these and then pass them along.  Admittedly, I rarely open these books. Maybe I'll read the back cover and possibly glance at the introduction. To be honest, I already have so many books on my shelves crying out to be read that these books usually find a place beside those, to be read at some distant time.  Last year, however, I remember opening up that box and seeing this book called Living the Christian Year. At the time, I was on sabbatical and navigating church hunting and trying to be open to a more liturgical and traditional way of understanding the Christian life. So, after reading the back and glancing through the intro I decided to commit to it. Ironically, though, as the chaos of pre-Christmas life took over, the book ended up back on my shelf.

This year, however, as the beginning of Advent coincided with some deep disappointments and setbacks, I ran back to that shelf and vowed that I would, finally, figure out what this Advent thing is all about. No poor-tasting chocolate substitutes, but the real thing. And I have been so met in the searching.  Kathleen Norris, who is quoted in the book, says "I've learned how much the Advent season holds, how it breaks into our lives with images of light and dark, first and last things, watchfulness and longing, origin and destiny."  And as I've read through this book and sat in the scriptures that are meant to frame this season, I have felt a deep mystery about it for the very first time. A deep longing and expectation, not that God will answer my own selfish prayers, but just that I would know the Christ child. That I would expect God's movement in our world. That I would desire more than what my own eyes can see and my own dreams can hope for.

The main idea that the author sits in for the season of Advent is the idea that we are enlarged by waiting. That through restraint, quiet, retreat, fasting and rich tradition, our own souls become so filled with longing for God that they are literally grown during this time. He asks some great questions. "How can we experience Christ coming anew into our already full lives? How can we be absorbed in hope when we are so harried? How can our lives be enlarged in so brief a time?"

Ultimately, he answers these questions with the following quote from Lucy Shaw.

During the waiting times God is vibrantly at work within us.And if through the Spirit of God we have been united with the Father in dynamic relationship, if God has sown his gospel seed in us, then Jesus is being formed within us, little by little, day by day. But we have to wait if the Word is to become flesh in us.  And that kind of waiting feels like work." 

If you're like me, waiting feels totally counterproductive. Who am I to sit back on my heels and wait for something to happen when there are roughly 2 trillion things to be thinking about and accomplishing at any given moment. Shouldn't I be able to DO something here? Can't someone write a book about advent with three neat little steps to help me accomplish this enlarging work of my soul?

But that's just it- the ringing answer is no. Probably someone has actually written a book that will tell me exactly what to do, but I'm pretty sure I shouldn't read it.  I'm pretty sure that really the only thing I'm supposed to do is step back and wait. Trust that the living and active God is deeply at work in my soul, stretching it and filling it with deep expectation for only Him.

This is not easy or passive work but surely this is better work than the enlarging that a chocolate calendar would likely accomplish at this point in my life!  My prayer is that, rather than consume a piece of bland chocolate each morning, God would slow me down before the day even starts. That the racing mind that I awake to each day would be stilled in the early morning light so that my day might not reflect our cultural obsession with busyness and consumerism this time of year, but that it would undeniably point to the Christ that I am waiting for.

1 comment:

  1. I did the same thing last year with that book! I was committed to reading it through- but after Christmas, it sat on my shelf. But this year Jordan and I started it together in advent, and we are also richly enjoying it & getting a lot out of it. Good stuff!