Now that we are firmly ensconced in Advent, I am remembering how much I truly love this season--this time of year. Advent is a waiting time, on so many levels. We are waiting for the holidays in a secular sense. It is the end of the year and a time to gather with family and friends to celebrate with a convivial joy the ending of one time and the beginning of another. It is a time to draw near as dark and cold enrobe our daily lives, with people and places that make us feel warm and happy. Dinners out to friends' homes become more frequent. Even though it is exhausting we make the effort to do the same. It is better to be with others, truly, than to be alone on the holidays, right?
True enough. But, there is also a wonderful loneliness that kicks in this time of year, too. Wilderness loneliness. Wild aloneness.
Advent is not just a time of baking and prepping and planning and gathering. It is also a time to experience isolation. I feel that every morning when I take the dog out in the pre-dawn moments of the day. Going out with Sophie into the last hours of the night, I get a sense of winter taking root, really taking root around me. There is little birdsong, but for the hearty ones who choose to linger through the cold months. Their harsh cries only accentuate the silence left by the songbirds of summer being absent. The singing tires of cars passing on distant roads sounds cold and remote. The grass crunches underfoot. Lights are out. People are still asleep. No one is really around. Just me and the dog, and she is not a good conversationalist despite her faithful companionship.
I think, at the core, that is what wilderness really is. Being truly alone, but for the silence of God. That is almost impossible in this day and age in this part of the world. I have a friend who visited us not too long ago, who came out from NY to stay with us "in the country." He commented on how refreshing it is to have real space around him in which there were so few human souls about. Now realize, I live in a suburban development in which my nearest neighbor's living room is twenty feet from my family room. We, in my eyes, sit back to back on most days, especially when we are each watching the evening news. Yet here is my friend describing being out here with us as a wilderness break? For him, it is. He lives his life with, literally, hundreds of people around him...Some within six feet at times. He might be "alone" in his apartment and yet there is a person not inches from him in her own. Talk about the compression of human existence. How can we hear God when there is that much of the world pressing in?
So, then, comes the Baptist's cry. The "voice of one crying in the wilderness" comes to us and calls on a rapprochement with God. Draw near to God and away from the world. Repent, be baptized and cleansed. Know mercy, engage in metanoia. Set aside that which is and begin to live into that which might be.
In order to do that, we have to be willing to slow down, quiet down, listen. That is what I like about winter pressing in. It becomes a physical trial to get up and get out and about. It is not easy to engage in life beyond the warmth of our own personal circles of life...And at the same time we are impressed by the way life seems to keep pushing us on into the dark, the cold and the waste of silence, snow and frost.
"On Jordan's bank the Baptist cry, announces that the Lord is nigh
Awake and hearken for he brings glad tidings of the King of kings."
That is one of my favorite hymns of the season.
God doesn't need a herald of Grace. We do. God will come in God's own time, but we need a chance to set aside time to wait, to listen and to prepare. I guess that is what this early wintertide is for. Those early walks with the sunrise only hinted at; the quiet of the crunching frost and the panting dog; the waiting for the next moment to come--the one promised to us from the beginning of time.