What does it mean to wait for something we can’t even begin to imagine?
Advent is a church season, like its cousin Lent, that always stands in such stark contrast to the cultural expressions blasting on around it.
Its deep-water quiet is an affront to the endless busyness, anxious preparation, accumulating, noise-making, running, fretting, image-burnishing, pretending, and numbing that typically accompany the Holidays.
In that way, I suppose, Advent is a microcosm of the spiritual life set against the warp-speed backdrop of “normal” daily life in the Empire: by comparison, Advent is baffling, out of sync, eerily still, foolish, watchful.
Who waits when there’s so much to accomplish and accumulate? Who hopes when there’s nothing to hope for? Who chooses being alert when being anesthetized feels so much better? Who opts for quiet and darkness when it’s so easy to flip a switch to ensure you never, ever have to be alone?
For years now, I have loved Advent’s attentive solemnity, the way its steady gaze calls us to reconsecrate what has been made thoughtless and facile.
But in recent years, I’ve noticed a quality to its energy that’s much less complacent. Less polished. The peace it offers is deep and demanding, and like all things eternal, it is not particularly concerned with being pretty.
During Advent, there’s a lot of talk about waiting: we’re waiting through the long metaphorical (and for northerners, literal) darkness for a Light that comes in unexpected form: a crying, needy, vulnerable newborn destined to both embody and point the way to that universal Christ presence. All of that is weird enough, for sure.
But Advent is weirder yet in that the church declares it not as a time of doing, which institutions (including the church) are very attached to, but rather uncharacteristically as a time of patient being.
For me, especially now, in seasons of anguish and angst, intense division and aggressive claim-staking, I’m exhausted with doing. It’s tempting to interpret and run into Advent’s quiet waiting as if it were a hideout, a secret cave where no wars or rumors of wars could touch me.