Advent I: Darkness

Walking into my writing room at five in the morning, I haven’t switched on the light yet. It is the last dawn of November. It is pitch black dark, and I am holding my baby on my arm. While we move through the dark, she makes no sound: no whimper, no murmur, no inquiring squeak. She is quiet, because I am holding her. Without knowing what room we are in, why the light is off, or where I will take her, she is at peace because we are together.

Were it that easy for the rest of us. Today, Advent Sunday, is the day we enter darkness. We will wait while we move through the dark, wondering what will come of it.

How about us? Are we at peace, because we know we are held on God’s arm? Or are we calling out, because we don’t trust the circumstances?

Faith being faith, chances are good that we find ourselves in the dark more often than not. It’s a lot easier to move through this life believing in the things that we can prove, see, and feel. It’s a lot easier to justify that the dark is just the dark, and that we are, as it seems, alone in it.

When we feel that way, despite our best intentions, our kids ask pesky questions.

“Mom, where is God?”

Hmmm. “God is everywhere.”

She looks around the room, a bird’s eye view from the top bunk. I see that she is a little nervous.

“Here, in this bedroom?”

I nod, eyeing the room myself. “God is everywhere you are.”

“Why can’t I see God?”

“God is like the wind. You can feel him, and sometimes you can hear him.”

And the rest of the time, when you’re pushing forty, like me, you are wishing you had the faith of a child. C.S. Lewis wrote, “Someday, you will be old enough to believe in fairy tales again.” Yes, there is a period near the end of our lives when we are liminal, when we loosen our hold on the things that the world has taught us between the time that we are young and the time when we will feel the veil lift again. Lauren Winner refers to a period of being in the “middle.”

I am in that middle.

Yet yesterday, on the eve of Advent, I stood in the drugstore, tapping my feet in front of the candles. I was immensely stressed, because I could not find the right colors. “Three purple and one pink! Isn’t anyone else celebrating Advent?!” I would have even paid too much for them. This was my last chance to make a wreath.

While I desperately pushed the buggy to the last store in the shopping center, I asked myself: why was this so important? I hadn’t felt the strong hold in the dark in a long, long while. I hadn’t felt or heard the wind for a time now, despite what I had told my daughter.

Advent was important because it was an invitation. The space between the candles was a place of peace, a clearing of my static so I could perch, listen, feel, and wait.

For signs.

For shifts on the horizon.

For a beatification of the ordinary.

Twenty years ago, I was a college student on a board of directors in Chicago. I had a friend on the board who had a friend who was an ordained minister: charming, handsome, quirky. I visited his church and sat on his sofa. It had been snowing outside. He loved the Art Institute, like I did.

Here we are, twenty years later on Facebook. He’s still a pastor near or around the same place. I am halfway across the world, struggling for any down time between four children. He posts book recommendations on Facebook.

The Vigil, by Wendy Wright. The poems of Wendell Berry and Marie Howe. “Lauren Winner, Still, pp 175-181.” It’s like the book club I can’t be a member of at the moment. It’s like circumventing all those horrible self-help titles that other people like, who have no clue what I want to have stacked on my night side table. I look up his books and poems, one by one. They are what I need, every time. They are about God, my life, my faith, my doubt. When I need them.

This friend from twenty years ago, who I happen to see in my Facebook feed, is a beatification of the ordinary. He is how God finds a way through my chaos, fatigue, and skepticism. He is how God shifts the light in the dark writing room, coloring the horizon pink and gray, rendering the wall switch irrelevant.

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© 2014 Anastasia Hacopian

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