Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy
On the Sunday after Thanksgiving on a 70 degree day, I found myself walking around a park in Maryville, TN with my two-year old son. Unlike South Bend, IN, Maryville was still enjoying the last vestiges of autumn. Leaves were fluttering to the ground, blanketing the still soft earth. My son, happy enough in his stroller at the beginning of our walk, soon desired to toddle around the park on his own.
Walking around a park with a toddler is not the most efficient of endeavors. Of course, it would banal to say that a toddler is not quite as quick as a full-grown adult. But what makes walking with my son so utterly slow is his total absorption in every facet of reality. Leaves are not merely to be walked upon but inspected as if every one of them is the very first leaf that has come into existence. The water of a creek is no mere accoutrement to the stroll but a living reality that must be sufficiently contemplated. Lamps are not instruments to light the way along a dark path but stunning artistic creations that all humanity should praise. A tunnel is not simply a way to walk under a bridge but an echo chamber that manifests to the world the wonderful possibilities of sound. To walk a hundred yards with a toddler is an hour long event, full of side excursions that transfigure a utilitarian journey into a meditation upon creation itself.
Those that walk with a toddler must learn to enjoy the slowness of the stroll. To see the created order not through the eyes of a schedule, of having to be in a specific place at a certain time, but as worthy of contemplative wonder. As I walked along that path with Tommy, I discovered that I was no longer simply waiting for him to continue with his journey. I too was exploring every leaf with him, watching the water of the creek flow along, staring with delight at the design of lamps, and glorying in the echoes produced by the human voice in tunnel after tunnel. For once, I was not thinking about the emails that I needed to write when I got back into the office on Monday. Rather, I was immersed in that slow gift of time in which each event is worth attending to. The time that we were spending together in that park was pure gift, not to be quickly passed over for whatever followed next upon the schedule. On my own part, this loving contemplation of the world required a surrender of my will, giving it over to the wanderings of a two year old. Only in giving up my desire to walk as much as possible, as fast as possible, could I see the world for what it was–pure gift.
During the season of Advent, we are invited to perceive the slow gift of time. Indeed, all creation waits for the second advent of Christ, the Son. We yearn for the full redemption of the world, for the passing away of sorrow and sadness, of violence and discord, of injustice and misery. Yet, we do not wait as those who discern in the created order a physical reality that must entirely pass away. Rather, we wait with love, aware of the slow gift of time, of relationship, of all that makes us deeply human. The Christ who comes will not abolish the created order but rather like my toddler will invite us to see the world as God intends it to be seen. In Advent, we are invited to slow down so that we can practice the vision of the kingdom. To see waiting not as something that is simply a prelude to the real event but as part of the gift of salvation itself.
Indeed, Advent is the liturgical expression of a fundamental facet of the Christian life. We await the totality of our redemption. At Christmas itself, we will see that the fullness of what has revealed in Christ is expressed best in the humility of an infant, of a God who enters himself into the slow gift of time.
In this holy season, we learn to long for the Incarnate Word to be born this day. We desire the glorious return of God, of the transformation of creation itself through the peace of the kingdom. Yet, Advent reminds us that this second coming will not be the result of human busyness, of perpetual motion and action, of bureaucratic schemes and plans. Rather, God seeks to come even now into the heart of those who wait with his Son, willing to give over their vision to see with the eyes of Emmanuel. To wait for God in the season of Advent is to find that he still comes to us this day, to see that our longing is part of our salvation:
We weep because the night is long,
We laugh for day shall rise,
We sing a slow contented song
And knock at Paradise.
Weeping we hold Him fast Who wept
For us, we hold Him fast;
And will not let Him go except
He bless us first or last.
Weeping we hold Him fast to-night;
We will not let Him go
Till daybreak smite our wearied sight
And summer smite the snow:
Then figs shall bud, and dove with dove
Shall coo the livelong day;
Then He shall say, ‘Arise, My love,
My fair one, come away.’ (Christina Rossetti, “Advent”).
It is the waiting, the longing of Advent, that is itself part of the salvation of the world, of each soul, of history itself. So during this season of Advent, let us join after the Word made toddler, who invites us to see creation for the gift that it is.