Sunday, December 09, 2007


Yesterday's fierce wind might as well have been Advent itself arriving, sweeping away the dregs of ordinary time and ushering in today's icy, dark calm.

I stood in the yard, taking a break from raking up the last of the leaves before tonight's promised snow. Even at 3 pm I could feel the pressure of impending evening. It was cold, a damp penetrating cold. Across the street, a string of white lights gleamed from a small pine. I stopped and looked up. The trees were absolutely bare, skeletally bare, against the dark gray sky. Any delusion that the warm, wet fall had conferred some extra life on them vanished. And the kinks in my back and neck were reminding me of the skeleton off which my own all-too-decidual flesh will someday fall. What is that by-the-graveyard tune we sometimes find ourselves whistling ?

Winter will not come this year,
and I will never die !

Today's recessional hymn was as dark as the lowering afternoon. Its minor, vaguely martial cadences came floating back intermittantly as I raked.

Signs of endings all around us,
darkness, death, and winter days,
shroud our lives in fear and sadness,
numbing mouths that long to praise.

This is the mode of Advent, the mode of life on earth. We are small, and the world is dark and cold. Whatever lights may flicker in the distance seem always on the verge of being swamped.

I am thankful for the cyclic church year, for the chance to relive the spiritual trajectory from darkness to light, from emptiness to fullness, from longing to arrival. In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Yes, maybe I had cleared 40 bags of leaves out of our yard, but inside, lately, I was alternating between a tangled wilderness and a trackless desert. Frets and anxieties, anger and resentment, preoccupations and distractions, profanity, impatience, dissatisfaction, exhaustion, apathy -- the howling, infantile self alternating between cries of "I want I want I want !" and "No ! No ! No !" I was a microcosm of all the world's bleakness and violence.

I stood in the darkening afternoon, my work done, still breathing heavily from my exertions. The air was cold, winter was on the way with all its attendant discomforts and hassles. I felt a strange peace. A small clearing in my inner thicket had opened up. For the briefest moment I faced the oncoming cold and darkness -- winter, death, everything -- with equanimity.

It was a brief, shocking taste of mercy.

Come, O Christ, and dwell among us!
Hear our cries, come set us free.
Give us hope and faith and gladness.
Show us what there yet can be.

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