Every year in my life, whether shaped within a church setting or without, have their rhythms and flows that generally stay the same year-to-year. Academically, my year starts in September; chronologically, my year begins in March, that anniversary of my official and unequivocal entry into the world (otherwise known as my birth); religiously and spiritually, my year begins at the end of November, or the beginning of December. The season of Advent is the liturgical season of the church calendar that heralds Christ’s coming at Christmas.
Before you back off at all these mentions of “church” and “Christ,” let me remind you that I have very little solid notions of what any of these things properly are, so to be fearful of them at this early time in the post is unwarranted (except based on your own connection to those words). In fact, it is only through my continuing approach toward these things that I begin to see them more clearly, and through images that are not terribly repulsive to my eyes, either, as they once were not so long ago.
This year, Advent began on the last Sunday in November, and so caught the purchase of my yearly Advent wreath more than a little off guard. But now I have this Advent “wreath” on my coffee table, arranged in a decidedly non-cyclical form (not for any theological significance; I am creaturely enough to admit that this is a purely aesthetic decision), and I have taken to meditating on the progression of these candles in the morning as I prepare for the day. I love the quiet moment of kneeling or sitting before my coffee table with these beautiful tea-lights, listening to December birds singing outside the windows of my small city/suburban apartment, and readying myself spiritually for the day ahead.
This year, I am fortunate to have come across a booklet of Advent meditations taken from the writings of Henri Nouwen, a twentieth-century Catholic priest. I was struck by the meditation for this past Sunday, the Second Sunday of Advent. “The Patient Live and Wait in the Present” is it’s title.
‘A waiting person is a patient person. The word “patience” implies the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us. Patient living means to live actively in the present and wait there. Impatient people expect the real thing to happen somewhere else, and therefore they want to get away from the present situation and go elsewhere. For them, the moment is empty. But patient people dare to stay where they are, waiting.’
–Taken from Finding My Way Home: Pathways to Life and the Spirit, 2001
This idea of patiently waiting is extraordinary to me. To wait patiently in the moment is not a passive thing: it is a distinctly active proposition in which one’s current situtation is not a burden to be borne but a treasure to behold. And if in the season of Advent, we wait for Christ (whoever that may be, or whatever that may mean), how wonderful is it to reflect that this waiting is not an expectation that “the real thing” will happen somewhere else, but a patient observation that perhaps this presence is already with us. After all, the “coming of Christ” was an historical moment in the past; the living “body of Christ” is a spiritual reality now in which we are all a part.
We are not so much waiting for Christ to “come again” in a physical sense, but in a spiritual one: we wait patiently for the peaceful and transformative love of God to take hold in our hearts and in our relationships; we wait patiently for our current sins of sexism, racism, and all forms of oppression to be gone, knowing by living now that we are already in the presence of the departure of such evil.
Being patient is difficult. Difficult to live fully and wonderfully now, without pining for a future that is better. Perhaps it is only patient people who really make change, for they are not so caught up in their desire for the future that they forget the importance of the present.
As this new year begins, I hope that we all can be mindful of the awe-inspiring reality of the present, of its importance, of its weight or frivolity, of its saddness or joy, and to know that though we wait in expectation for something greater we are not so wrapped up in that expectation as to forget now.