Sunday, December 9, 2012

Advent Reflection: Action in Waiting

Each year, the Little Village community of Amate House hosts an evening of Advent reflections.  We adapt and abbreviate the Hispanic tradition of Las Posadas--a re-enactment of Mary and Joseph's journey to Bethlehem--knocking on doors and being turned away until finally being received at the inn's stable.  Traditionally, Las Posadas is a nine day novena, representing the nine months of Mary's pregnancy.  For our purposes, we condensed the event into one evening full of praying, singing, and reflecting.  At each of our nine stops around our neighborhood, one of my housemates read their reflection on their Amate experience thus far and how it relates to the four (unofficial) themes of Advent:  Waiting, Preparing, Receiving, and Rebirth.  Below you'll find my reflection on the first theme.  Sorry you can't experience it with Mexican sweet bread, ginger snaps, and hot chocolate the way everyone else did! :)


"Here Jesus is speaking of his disciples and their preparation for his coming.  Take note that God's kingdom is not formed by any human discovery or intention, however daring and noble, but by the coming of Christ.  ... It is remarkable that not only God, creator of heaven and earth, but also God's people must be a part of this plan. ... There must be people who stand by the door and listen for him and who open it quickly when he knocks.  Workers, not slackers, are dressed for service.  ... God has work that has to be done in work clothes, not in one's Sunday best.  As long as God's kingdom has to be fought for, it is more important to be dressed for work--ready for action..."  -- Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt

In many ways, my college experience was a realization of just how much this world expects us to have everything figured out, or at least pretend we do.  You no sooner pick a major than people begin to bombard you with that dreaded question, “What are you going to do with that?”  Four years were plenty enough time to realize that the world’s perspective aims at knowing who you’re going to be, more than it aims at truly knowing who you are.  For me, this is the difference between those from Blumhardt’s quote who go around wearing their Sunday best, cover model souls with painted faces, and those who are dressed for work, flecked with the smatterings of nitty gritty daily life. 

I think I came into this year of Amate dressed in my Sunday best, with my eye on the person I could be rather than courageously vulnerable, willing to be seen for exactly who I am, faults and all.  As a result, I became something of a self-development junkie, never satisfied with who I am at present, never willing to fully recognize my gifts and talents because all I can see is just how full of holes and cracks I am, how much this part of me needs mending, how much that part of me needs tweaking, and how little that part of me holds up to its potential.

I realized early on—during Orientation, in fact—as my new community began to trade out their best Sunday dresses and suits for muddy shoes and well-worn t-shirts, just what my greatest challenge would be this year.  I would have to slow down and re-orient my perspective so that I no longer had my eyes set on the woman I could be, and God’s will as it would manifest itself in the future, but rather seeing myself clearly and honestly, and living that authentically:  seeing God’s will not in who I would be, but in who I have already become over my twenty-two years of life.  I would have to recognize myself as God’s beloved and be patient and loving towards myself as I had rarely been before, acknowledging, in the words of Carl Rogers:  “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”

I had to let go.  I knew I had to be active in my waiting, so I chose to live that paradox, to lose myself in service of others to find myself.  Nowadays, because of Amate, my active waiting looks like dancing like children with a grown man in the middle of the Brookfield Zoo because I took the time to learn what it takes to make his day.  My active waiting looks like deconstructing and broadening my understanding of service to include the slow, laborious cultivation of trust and relationships with elderly who don’t always remember me from one day to the next.  My active waiting looks like pushing myself to the limits of my concept of love to admit that I don’t have all of the answers and inviting my community to share their truth and reality with me.  My active waiting looks like acknowledging the ugly habits I thought I’d left behind as they buck and kick their way into my new life, and allowing my community to hold me accountable for their effects on our shared life.  My active waiting looks like realizing my own dignity and worth as I yield to my community’s boundless love and affection. 

My active waiting is not picture perfect.  It’s messy and wild, and sometimes a little crude.  But it’s more me than I have been for quite some time.  All it took was the letting go and giving in to the kind of faith that believes God’s will is here and now, not just tomorrow; the kind of faith that believes that you shouldn’t search for the meaning of life, but for the meaning you can give life.  You.  Exactly as you are.  Dirty work clothes and all.

During Fall Retreat, I picked up a book by Henri Nouwen from the Amate library.  My forward-looking self urged me to try to read the entire book in one afternoon.  But the preface to the book stopped me in my tracks.  It cautioned the reader to read in small doses, to read the book the way it was written:  one day at a time, one page at a time.  I chastised myself for wanting to speed ahead and lose the weight of the words about to grace my lips.  I’m glad I slowed down, because if I hadn’t, the following quote might not have stayed with me the way it does now.  I might not have given it the chance to permeate to the far reaches of my heart, those little spaces I rarely even let God touch.  It said:  “God is faithful to God’s promises.  Before you die, you will find the acceptance and the love you crave.  It will not come in the way you expect.  It will not follow your needs and your wishes.  But it will fill your heart and satisfy your deepest desire.  There is nothing to hold on to but this promise.  Everything else has been taken away from you.  Cling to that naked promise in faith.  Your faith will heal you.”

Anytime my expectations of myself and future-focused perspective start to cloud my vision and bring me to my knees, I turn to that quote and let it bring back a small taste of the peace it brought me that day.  I pray that this year will fortify in me the kind of faith that believes in the promise of today, and encourages me to find the meaning I can bring to the hand I am dealt each day of my life—whether it be at work, at home, or in the quiet of my own heart.

I expect my self-knowledge to be a lifelong journey, a waiting game of its own, but not a passive one.  It will be spent as intentionally as possible, like the disciples awaiting Christ’s coming.  For me, Christ’s coming will be like God tracing out a constellation from the brightest stars of my life, and delighting in watching my face as suddenly it all comes clear, as suddenly, all of my “I don’t know’s” and “perhaps’s” and “we’ll see’s” spell out a full portrait of who God created me to be.  Until then, sure, I’m waiting.  But I’m not waiting in passivity.  Rather, I’m pouring my heart into the people around me each day, deconstructing the world’s claims on my understanding of myself, and being courageous enough in my vulnerability and faith to trust that my dreams will find me and my stars will align as best serves His kingdom—one day at a time.