Our Diocese held its annual Advent Clergy Day this past week, and the speaker was one of my closest friends, Daniel Simons. He is an associate at Trinity, Wall Street, and serves as their priest in charge of pilgrimage...among other duties. His charge was to speak to us of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany in the context of pilgrimage. I am still processing what we worked on as we sought to frame the transit of these holidays as a pilgrimage, but here are some preliminary thoughts, with credit for their origin going to Daniel:
The big concept he asked us to embrace is the focus of my reflection today: We are always in the season of Advent. It is not just a four week overture to the liturgical year. It is not just the "run up" to Christmas. It is a season that is also our state of being as the Church. It is waiting on God with intention, and it is also a posture of intentional waiting.
This sort of waiting is not passive, but rather a dynamic engagement with God that provokes us to being awake and alert and committed to the discipline of being fully present to NOW and HERE as the place where we meet God and each other.
Daniel defined the "Pilgrim's Way" as a three stage process:
- Dissatisfaction-the realization that our present state of mind, heart, body, spirit is not tenable. We can't just keep on keeping on. Something needs to change (and if we are honest, it is our own self)
- Displacement-Getting up and getting going. We can't change, or embrace change unless we are willing to move, to be on the way
- Destination-Arriving...with the realization that even if arrival means returning to a place or state we have been before, we will be changed. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus was right, you can't put your foot in the same river twice.
I confess that like many people, I find Advent as preparatory time for the celebrations of Christmas. The chronological run up to the holiday is full of plans for pageants, liturgies, social gatherings, pastoral visits, and more. Can I pack it all in before I get a break for time with my family? I have friends who have marked the progression of the days of Advent as countdowns on the meetings they must weather, the sermons they must preach...the chores they must finish up.
And yet, I confess that I have often forgotten that deeper truth during Advent. Indeed, in this life we have ONE JOB and that is to wait, actively and faithfully, on God, and not on the calendar. We are called to be present to God being active in our lives in the here and now, and we are tasked with being responsive and attentive to the service we are called to render as we fulfill our common role as agents and provocateurs of the incoming Kingdom of our God.
Advent, like resurrection, should invade our spiritual pilgrimage with each other as we follow our savior throughout the year. EVERY day is another day of waiting with mindful expectation that God is coming to us and we are to both be on the way and to make the way straight for the impressing advent of our God, the one who creates, redeems and sanctifies us even as we are discomfited, displaced and finally destined to arrive before the Great Throne on the Last Day.