Giving Light

Every time I looked around yesterday, really looked, joy was present—in the light on the pepper trees, in my home office, in the soccer game at lunch. But surely, at those same moments, many beings on Earth felt far from joyful.

Some family friends, Bella and Henry, were in the concentration camps during World War II. They met and married after the war. I met them for the first time for lunch at Red Robbins when they were in their eighties.

At one point, Henry said, “I couldn’t have imagined all this,” he waved his hand, indicating his entire life, the restaurant, grown children, a career, “when I was in Auschwitz.”

We wait, during this Advent season, for the birth of Light in the darkness, the light that “draws us outward into the world and inward into the depths of our hearts,” as Barb Kollenkark says. It draws us to these places because it is there. We and all creation are the light of the world. We are waiting for our own birth, our awakening to the reality that everything is Christ.

A friend recently reminded me that the only way we can be light in this world is by showing up where we are as who we are. All we can offer is the gift of our own becoming responding with love and joy to the reality in front of us at that moment.

“The world is shot through with poverty,” Jim Finley says. Any person we meet today may need a witness to joy. That doesn’t mean false cheer or telling someone in pain that they’re OK. It means embodying “I couldn’t have imagined all this” while being present to their suffering.

“If we want to be spiritual, then, let us first of all live our lives,” Thomas Merton wrote in Thoughts in Solitude. Our lives will contain darkness and light, and the darkness for some will be incomprehensibly deep. At the same time, “The people in darkness will see a great light.” May we be that light.

A Time of Longing

I’ve often heard Advent described as a time of preparation and waiting, but my friend Barb Kollenkark recently described it as a period of longing.

I suppose that makes sense. We are, after all, waiting for the coming of a child, and I’m sure parents-to-be would confirm that those nine months contain a great deal of longing.

A woman who is pregnant is “expecting.” During Advent we expect the birth of Christ in our hearts. That’s a strong word, with a lot of faith and an element of demand to it. We’re not wishing, we’re expecting.

I so often consider the object of my desire to be a conclusion: the completion of a project, the settling of a decision, the ending of an uncomfortable emotion. But in that delivery room, all parents are hoping for a beginning, not an ending.

Life is a continuing unfolding, and that’s what parents want for their children. Not a straight path, not without difficulties, probably messy, but at every moment the potential for growth.

And so with us and Christ. The coming we are longing for is not a consummation, though we often get ourselves into trouble in big and small ways by searching for fulfillment in everything from alcoholism to the salvation that might arrive in the next email or Facebook post. Not that I’d know anything about that.

What arrives on Christmas, what we’re waiting for, is not an end to yearning but a deepening of it. We are finite beings with an infinite capacity for love, multiple teachers have said, and on Christmas we will receive at least two things, regardless of what is under the tree: a historical example of someone who will show us what our hearts are capable of and that ability itself, which is to live in the evolutionary moment we’re in, to live into our longing, into our true selves in God.

That’s something worth expecting.

Why Wait?

My life would be a lot easier if impatience were a virtue. Or if I could learn patience faster.

Recently, I’ve been telling myself to buckle down and do more of approximately everything. Myself and I have had this conversation often with no discernible results. So for Advent I decided to stop trying to figure things out and wait and listen instead. This may be what some people refer to as praying.

Our culture doesn’t particularly value waiting, and after two weeks of practicing it, I understand why. The first couple of days you can feel all la-dee-da and enlightened about it, but beginning day three it’s just not fun. The subtitle on the Advent reader they handed out at church says, “Waiting in joyful hope.” I’m not sure where the joyful hope people are, but I’m hanging out in the annoyed get-it-over-with-already camp.

Today I decided that two weeks is quite enough time for God/the universe/whatever to have straightened out my life and revealed at least the next few steps in a clear, concise road map. Unfortunately, as is so often the case, God/the universe/whatever doesn’t appear to be on my timeline, despite my having told her/him/it very sternly in the car on the way home that I’d had about enough of waiting.

But here’s the thing, the point of these four weeks is for people to make a straight path for God, not the other way around. We’re getting ready to celebrate a birth, and though I don’t have any kids, I’ve attended enough baby showers to know that requires a lot of preparation.

Once it happens, your life, as I understand it, does not get easier. Suddenly your time is no longer you own, and this tiny being has the power to disrupt your sleeping and eating and showering in ways previously unimagined. It also has the power to open up a richness and a depth of love that little else can provide.

So that’s what we’re preparing to celebrate, that opening of love in our lives. I suppose it might be worth waiting for.