Yesterday's #AdventWord was "look." The picture I chose for the day is a moment I captured during family game night Saturday evening: my cousin looking at the game and my father looking at my cousin. It was a great evening and a beautiful moment.
And then I read the background for the prompt. "Advent is a time to look for 'desert places': the place of solitude, the place of true silence." The rowdiness of game night last night was the exact opposite of a desert place. Solitude and preparation were the farthest things from my mind.
Isn't that what we do during Advent? It's at least what I do during Advent. I'm so often looking ahead during this season. I look to spring, first of all. I look towards the next time the streets and sidewalks are clear, the next holiday event, the next time there are cookies on the work table of doom, celebrating Christmas with my extended family, checking that last gift off my shopping list. Children are taught to look for Santa coming, their behavior regulated by this future event. Silence? Anyone who enters the mall can tell you that doesn't exist after Thanksgiving. It's filled by that terrible Bono Christmas song.
In many ways, it seems as though the church encourages this existence out of time during Advent. Sunday's gospel is Mark's "mini apocalypse," Jesus coming in clouds with great power and glory, promising his elect to be gathered from the ends of earth to the ends of heaven. Jesus seems to be saying, "look to this great future event when everyone you know and love will be gathered together." It's a great thought, and similar to what we often think about when we think about Christmas. The sudden shift from the norm, the gathering together.
But, just like that holiday to-do list, this gospel demands preparation. "Beware, keep alert," Jesus says. It's so easy to be in the zone, anticipating the next thing that needs done or will happen during this season. Even Saturday night, when I was at my parents' house waiting for my cousins to arrive, I could not relax and wait. The problem was--I wasn't preparing. I was just hovering.
It's so easy, I find, to look like I'm preparing when instead I am just hovering, marking time, waiting. The church season, with its focus on counter-cultural introspection and Christmas with its business, both seem to demand a level of preparation I often have trouble turning in. This is in some ways a great season for people like me, who can look busy without actually connecting.
The downfall, though, is that when I'm in the moment, when family has actually arrived, when we're sitting down to dinner or games or presents, I find myself thinking about how stressed I was waiting for the event--and why? I wasn't even really doing anything.
And that's the difference, I find. Beware, keep alert. It's not for that future moment, when Jesus comes in glory, when the food is cooked and the family arrives. It's for who I am in the hovering, in the moments that I'm frantically flipping the car radio away from the eleven billionth rendition of "Santa, Baby." It's being fully present during game night knowing that the joy and family time there is just as holy as a desert place and the time I spent waiting for my cousins to arrive. It's knowing that silence can happen in the midst of a rowdy dinner--the silence of that worrying, planning voice. Here's to the hovering and the looking--not ahead, but around and in.