Monday Meditation: We Begin with the Waiting

Monday Meditation: We Begin with the Waiting

Advent is my favorite season of the liturgical year.  I have always identified most with its themes of darkness and waiting.  As a night owl, I have always found the darkness and solitude of the middle-of-the-night hours to be the most creative, inspiring, and restorative.  As a destination-oriented person, I have struggled to learn to live out and lean into seasons of waiting in my life.  Advent so deeply resonates with me precisely because the waiting has a purpose and an end-point.  It is a season of joyful expectation of the new thing that is about to come into being.  It is a season of hope.

When I created my Advent wreath several years ago, I chose to use the color blue instead of purple because of its association with enlivening hope.  Advent teaches us what it is to have faith that what is promised to come will in fact come:

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. – Hebrews 11:1

Seasons of waiting are inevitable and indeed vital in our lives, which Advent reminds us of again and again, yet we hope in that as-yet-unseen realization of purpose that we have been promised.  In seasons of waiting, we hope for change.  We hope for renewal.  We hope for fruition.  We hope for enough hope to sustain us all the way through the curve.

I like the way Eugene Peterson paraphrases this verse:

The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living.

Our faith–our hope in what we have not yet seen but joyfully anticipate–is the firm foundation that we build upon.  It is the rich soil of love that our roots grow down deeply into.

That is why, I think, the liturgical year opens with this particular season.  We begin every year not with the celebration of the birth of the Emmanuel but with the waiting with hope in joyful expectation that soon, so very soon, our God-[will be]-with-us just as we have been promised!  We begin every year with this reminder, this invitation to return again to the beginning, the beginning of our story, the beginning of the story of God.  Just as St. Benedict encourages us still with his centuries-old wisdom, we are always being invited to begin again.

As we enter this last week of Advent, amidst all the busy last-minute shopping and preparations for gathering together in the coming celebration, we are continually reminded that we are, after all, just beginning.  We are reminded to slow down, to pause and reflect, to lean into these last days and hours of darkness and solitude with hopeful, joyful anticipation.  We are invited to begin opening up the deep places in ourselves, creating space in preparation for what is coming.

Because we know what is coming.

And when it comes, our hearts will have been made ready to receive yet again and still ever more deeply this always-accessible gift of the presence of God, intimately involved and engaged in our lives and within our very selves.

Personally, I can hardly wait! How about you?

Monday Meditation: A meditation on trees, for Advent

Monday Meditation: A meditation on trees, for Advent

Autumn has come late this year.  We are nearly to the last month of the year, and the vibrant reds and yellows are only now emerging in our little corner of the mid-west.  Many trees have lost most or all of their leaves with no more than a muted tribute to this season I love the most.

It’s ironic how much I love this season, nicknamed fall, given my generally vice-like grip on the things that it is time to let go of.  I wish I could enjoy all the colors of the changing leaves without ever having to grieve their dying and watch them drop curled and dry and grey-brown like the hard, cold ground they cover.

This metaphor of the tree is a dear recurring companion on my spiritual journey.  I’ve written about it before.  In a recent prayer time, this phrase caught my unsuspecting attention:

Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. – Ephesians 3:17, NLT

I began to think about this season of letting go, of releasing those elements once so vital to nourishment and growth that have since served their purpose and become unnecessary as the environment slowly changes.

Trees: A Metaphor

Losing the leaves–like all times of transition–can be an uncomfortable time of vulnerability and exposure.  As the leaves drop, the branches once hidden are suddenly revealed.  The tree does not release all the leaves at once; each leaf has its time, yet they all eventually fall away.  Sometimes a strong wind hurries the process along sooner than expected, loosening the last tender connection in a shocking motion.  Other times the leaves remain dying on the branch too long, drooping and drab alongside the bright colors and stark branches of other trees.

A tree that has let go of all its dying leaves may feel naked and bare, but it has a remarkable beauty all its own.  All the knotted, wobbly, twisted branches are revealed entirely as they are–as they have been created to be.  We see the tree’s true shape and form, standing tall, reaching out and up, braving the harshest conditions with resolute stillness.  The branches have nothing to hide or protect them for a time, but this season of rest and preparation is necessary for new growth to be possible again.

Even when the leaves change and fall to the ground, even when the branches are exposed to all the elements, even when the ground itself freezes all around the tree–the roots remain, sustaining the tree with unchangeable consistency through seasons and storms and fires and decades and even centuries.  The roots grow down and down, far below the surface, deep into darkness where all that has fallen away and died has seeped in and enriched the soil to feed the tree.

Death Enriches the Soil

I began to think about all the parts of myself that have died to bring more life.  All my unpleasant experiences and wounded places and discarded, outgrown understandings of God and myself–each sacrificial, necessary, inevitable death only enriches the soil of God’s love in which I am deeply rooted and out of which I grow and change and become.

I am a tree, rooted and established in the rich soil of God’s love, and I am strong.

So, my fellow pilgrims, what are you being invited to let go of in this season of change? What new growth might you be invited to anticipate in the darkness and waiting of this Advent season?