The Advent season is increasingly counter cultural – it sets out to do things differently.
Advent marks the beginning of a new liturgical year. Beginning a new year in early December means we are attempting to straddle two calendars and this presents its own challenge.
The secular calendar with all its demands can become the dominant force and induce a sort of schizoid split as we try to balance the two. I don’t think we should underestimate the challenge of balancing two very different calendars.
TIME OF WAITING
Advent is a time of waiting – of patience. Carlo Carretto spent 20 years in the Sahara desert – at the end of his time he was asked if God asked anything of him during his long silence. His answer was clear – “God is asking us to be patient.”
Today is we don’t do patience, we don’t do waiting – we are addicted to speed and doing – we are on the go – this is our default position- we expect things to happen instantly – press a button and get the results. And if you don’t get an instant reply to an email you wonder what is wrong. Efficiency be praised….
We have almost forgotten how to relax living as we do in a culture where time is a continuum of work and consuming – either producing or being entertained – and where leisure is reduced to being entertained by an industry that claims to know our wants (Amazon recommends) before we even ask -it leaves us passive and we become spiritually lazy.
I like the distinction between Eastern and Western forms of laziness. Eastern laziness consists in hanging out all day, in the sun, doing nothing, drinking cups of tea, listening to music and gossiping. Western laziness is different. It consists in constantly cramming our lives with compulsive, frenetic activity, leaving no time or space to attend to the important.I like the idea that this is a form of laziness! Where we allow the urgent to constantly harass us, get in the way of the important
This lack of patience is relatively new- throughout most of human history we had not choice but to wait, to be patient – waiting for light, waiting for the harvest, for rain, for news. I like the story told by a friend of mine, Dominic Milroy, about a fishing trip to Chile. He was driving along when suddenly the car got stuck in a swamp and couldn’t move. He walked to the nearest farm and eventually found an old woman and asked her if there was a tractor available. She laughed and said the nearest tractor was 50 miles away. However she said, there was no problem, because Andress and Paco would be back soon with the oxen – ‘sometime today or tomorrow.’ Dominic was shocked by the delay and even more shocked by his reaction as he recognised the huge cultural difference between the way she lived in time and the way he did. ‘Sometime today or tomorrow’, meant for her there was no problem, but for him there was a big problem. The oxen came later that day and as Dominic walked beside them he realised that he was living according to the rhythm that human beings in most cultures live, that is at the speed of the fastest available communication. He was used to living with phones and cars and emails and trains and planes and his default position was speed. The trouble for Dominic and for us is that liturgy, the Advent season and the spiritual life don’t do quick – they have a more natural rhythm – the rhythm of growth – and this requires leisure, even play.
So here again we face the prospect of a schizoid split as we attempt to operate out of two different mindsets or speeds – speed, efficiency, where lingering is anathema and the slow, patient presence of nature and ritual. This is not an easy balancing act, and at the moment most of us I suggest, are tipped into the speed default mode…
Advent is a time to re-educate ourselves – re-set our clocks – overthrow the tyranny of time – remembering that the tyrant is on the inside not the outside .