Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Trajectory of a Year

The first Sunday of Advent marks the start of the liturgical year. What struck me earlier this week as I was thinking about the arrival of Advent, though, is that the liturgical year doesn’t work the way logic would dictate. After all, wouldn’t it make sense that if the church year begins with getting ready for the birth of Christ, that the church year should end with the death and resurrection of Christ? But it doesn’t work that way.

We’ve got four weeks (or less, like this year!) of Advent, and then the baby Jesus is born. Only three or four months later, we’re commemorating the end of his earthly existence. That still leaves us with a full thirty weeks or so that are completely unaccounted for in terms of the life of Jesus.

And yet, if you think about it … in the grand scheme of the history of Christianity, the life of Jesus is a mere blip. In fact, if we put things in proportion – our liturgical year actually gives Jesus a lot more “earth” time. And isn’t that what the Christian life is all about? After all, the Christian mission didn’t die with Jesus; Christ lives on in his church even today, two thousand years after his death.

In light of that, then, the church year actually makes sense. We get Jesus walking the earth for three months, and then all those months of Ordinary Time are when we get to learn how things work after Jesus is dead, raised, and ascended … which is where we’re still at today, which helps make it “ordinary.”

This has made me think a lot about the trajectory of a year, though. Thinking about the trajectory of my year. One year ago, things were less than ideal for me. Not that I necessarily realized it to its fullest extent, but I was three months old as a religion teacher. Three months old as a nun living “out in the world.” Having to get used to the whole role of “being a religious.” Having to get used to life in a small community so far away from the big community I had just begun to be able to trust. Having suffered the deaths of several sisters – sisters who were not old and thus shouldn’t have had to die, sisters to whom I was pretty close – and having to have life just continue on in my “real world” life without the real time to mourn the loss. The Pit was sneaking up on me, but I didn’t really notice and/or acknowledge it at that point. A whole bunch of other non-bloggables. One year ago tonight, a conversation with a friend where I was seriously considering simply walking away and starting a new life for myself somewhere else. One year later and seeming worlds away … recalling recent frustrations that made me want to be able to wish I could just say “screw this” and walk away – and yet, I couldn’t even really hold even a hint of that wish in my head; this place, these people are my all.

What a difference a year can make.

This evening, before First Vespers for the First Sunday of Advent, we gathered in our Cloister Hall for the blessing of the Advent wreath. In the quiet between the ringing of the bells and the chanting “O God, come to my assistance,” I was aware of us all waiting there in silence for the lighting of the candle; I was reminded of another communal gathering in Cloister Hall, which also is structured around a candle, though that time it's lit from the Easter fire. I began to think about the fire, the flame, and the candles that provide a framework for what we’re really about.

We light the Advent candle tonight, marking the beginning of Advent and the liturgical year. In a few months, we will gather again in this space, lighting our Paschal candle to mark Jesus' conquering of death, his resurrection from the tomb. As we begin Advent tonight, we begin a period of anticipation, of waiting the arrival of the Christ-child at Christmas. When we conclude our Triduum, the mission will be complete. We are waiting patiently for the arrival of the One Who Will Come To Save Us; with his resurrection that Sunday morning, that salvation will be achieved.

That cycle of salvation only takes a few months. But we need those intervening months of "Ordinary Time" because, after all, we're not Jesus. There's a lot in life that's not the eager anticipation, not the glory of the resurrection, not the obvious success of the salvation journey; we need to grapple with our mundane lives as well. Besides, it's the Ordinary that makes these big events so special. We've been looking at the priest wear green for six months; the purple vestments of Advent are an obvious sign that something is different. The startled realization that it's not "same old same old" shakes us up, reminds us that this is special. We appreciate it that much more once we realize how long it's been since we've seen it. It gives us a starting point, another opportunity for us to try once again, to pick up those fizzled-out good intentions. "Always we begin again" — the coming of a new season gives us a nice excuse to "begin again." There's a freshness, an eagerness; a willingness to kick it back up a notch once more.

And so we begin this new year once more. We enter once more into this mystery of our faith, and renew our commitment to dive in ever deeper. Beginning the cycle anew, we wait in vigil once more and cry out with the anticipatory prayer of our faith:
Come, O Lord, and set us free. Maranatha.


Blogger Dennis said...

Come down, O love divine, seek Thou this soul of mine,
And visit it with Thine own ardor glowing.
O Comforter, draw near, within my heart appear,
And kindle it, Thy holy flame bestowing.

O let it freely burn, til earthly passions turn
To dust and ashes in its heat consuming;
And let Thy glorious light shine ever on my sight,
And clothe me round, the while my path illuming.

12/03/2006 1:10 AM  
Blogger Dennis said...

By the way, your reflection is beautiful. I questioned myself constantly back when I was a teacher.

I ran across a reflection this morning from a sister in Saint Louis that asks a similar question of herself.

Blessed Advent to you.

12/03/2006 10:17 AM  
Blogger Lisa said...

What a deep and insightful reflection! Thank you, Steph.

12/03/2006 10:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My aunt always made this big thing about making a cake and singing 'Happy Birthday (Dear Jesus... and many more!)' as part of the Christmas festivities. It was very embarrassing to me for some reason (have I mentioned that she's a flake in most matters?) but when you frame it in the context of it starting the new year it makes more sense.

Happy new year!

12/03/2006 11:39 AM  
Blogger the tentmaker said...

What an insightful statement.

One other thing, I have been reading your blog for a year. What a good year.


12/03/2006 4:53 PM  
Blogger Susan Rose, CSJP said...

happy new year my bloggy friend!

12/03/2006 10:32 PM  

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