It’s Advent …………… what if I don’t feel it?
Thoughts on the First Sunday of Advent, December 3, 2017
by Rev. Jim Ryan, firstname.lastname@example.org
The liturgical version of “What goes around comes around” means that, like it or not, Advent comes around every year – right about this time. If you’re not liturgical you don’t have to pay attention to this cycle. But if you are – liturgical, that is – then you gotta pay the piper and hear those tunes again. You know, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and “On Jordan’s Bank,” etc.
In an age when authenticity is all about doing only what you feel – does it make me, or my faith, less than authentic if I don’t feel the Advent thing? Is it authentic of me to sing O Antiphons when prophecies leave me cold? Is it authentic of me to announce the coming of the Savior, Messiah, the Anointed and Promised One when I would just as soon pass on all the trappings? Is it authentic to proclaim justice when all I see is greed and abuse?
What’s the point?
What if it’s only institutional after all? What if we’re only kidding ourselves – and the fact that we attach ourselves to a liturgical cycle that only works if the institution and hierarchy control it?
Be the bump on the log. Be the dry stick. Be the bucket with holes in it.
What if watching is all you can do?
Here’s the dilemma. When darkness and emptiness mark one’s life of faith, one finds oneself feeling like the bump on the log, the dry stick on the path, the bucket with holes in it. When once one felt purpose but now feels empty, abandoned. It is the feeling of being neglected by God.
Hear the word of God’s prophet Isaiah. In today’s first reading he says “for you have hidden your face from us and delivered us into the hands of our sins.” When this line runs across God’s hiddenness to place focus on my sin, that gives God a way out of this dilemma. When you read the first six words “for you have hidden your face” and stop, then you see the dilemma. How to acknowledge God’s presence when God is hidden? And this gets us to the Season of Advent ….. and not feeling it.
Sure, we know the words. We may even say we believe in the promise. But when the words seem only rote, and the promise has lost its shine, then you and I are left in darkness, emptiness, feeling alone and abandoned. Don’t fall into the trap of blaming this feeling on your sins. That’s quite simply a copout. Don’t blame anybody for anything. Just name it!
One thing I learned from the preachers in the southern mountains of eastern Kentucky is you’ve got to name your condition. Name this feeling of dry bones and old stick. Sure, those preachers preferred to move quickly on to spend the next hour or so on naming the sin. I don’t think we need to go there. It is enough to name the condition of this distance of God, this about-face hiddenness. That’s what produces not feeling the spirit and message of Advent.
We’re not alone. We’re told by her sisters and her biographers that Mother Teresa spent many, many, many, many years in this dry emptiness with God – a proverbial bump on a log. She searched and reached. She sat and knelt in silence. No feeling of God came to her. Duty did. Obligation did. Commitment did. But no comfort, no heartfelt pleasure and reassurance.
Obviously, she knew the message. She maintained her faith. She recited her prayers. But where was the God who led her – back then it likely had the feeling of a physical companionship – to the most abandoned folks on the streets of Calcutta?
When you’re not feeling it, why celebrate?
Name it. Name the silence that continues on and on. And decide if it’s time to answer a hidden divine face with one’s own hiddenness. More than revenge this hiddenness would come at the end of honest effort, honest searching and reaching for God. Try as one might – you just don’t feel it.
Is this where a liturgical cycle takes over? Does the recurring seasons, the repeating stories, readings, psalms – does all this serve as some kind of compensation for the effort? Are we meant to settle for the knowledge of these things only – knowledge without experience?
Or is this where the institution carries us? Can one maintain a spiritual integrity through abiding by the rules? Are the “tried and true” procedures conduits of compensation in their own right?
The answer is: I don’t know.
But here’s what I do know and it is inspired by this quote of Carl Sagan: “In all our searching the only thing we’ve found that makes the emptiness bearable is each other.”
It seems likely to me that when Sagan refers to emptiness he’s referring to the outer reaches of the universe and to interstellar space. But I think this emptiness equally applies to this divine unknowing to which I earlier referred. It is a fact, after all, that we come here to pray together, to share sacraments together, to eat and drink sacred bread and wine together, to share the Word together. And we do it in the Name of Christ.
St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is also helpful here as an example of community’s shared love. For me the beauty of this letter – this shining light – is the obvious love Paul has for the followers of Jesus who gather at Corinth. Yes, they caused him grief. He had little difficulty reprimanding them as well as shedding tears over their quarrelsomeness. Remember, though, this is also the community in which Paul experienced the freedom of the Spirit – including praying in tongues. He celebrates that they have experienced God’s generosity of “every gift of speech and knowledge.” This is the love and the spirit that is the experience of those who gather in Jesus’ Name.
So, maybe I have answered my own question, or maybe partially. It’s Advent ….. what if I’m not feeling it? Stay alert, watchful, and waiting — doing it with one another.
We know the message.
Once we experienced your love.
On occasion we preached your presence.
Somehow we even believed in our dryness.
Though we seem to be dry bones
and sandy grit on the beach,
nonetheless, we gather in mutual
support speaking words of kindness.
Let this be enough for now as we watch
and stay alert for your coming.