I’m reading Marilynne Robinson’s relatively new collection of essays, The Givenness of Things, and came across this elegant and weighty phrase, “the spirit of the times is one of joyless urgency.”
She’s found words to describe what I see going on in my own life and around me. My to-do list is long and always growing. We crave relationship and intimacy and yet make no time for it, allowing Facebook and such to become a false and diabolical substitute. We neither make nor allow space — not for thinking, not for silence, not for people, not for God. It’s always on to the next thing. In fact, the urgency of the next thing makes it hard to focus on the now thing.
A few years ago, I convened a group where we talked about ancient spiritual practices and what they might look like in our highly technological, fast-paced world. When I talked about making space in our lives for silence, for doing nothing, for sitting and reflecting, for being with our loved ones in an unhurried, no-thought-given-to-productivity kind of way, one of the persons in the group responded that they simply could not do that. Their brain and their body would not allow it. And neither would their bank account. They had to be constantly busy and working. Alas.
Advent offers a profound antidote to urgency. We’re invited simply to wait with the prophets for the coming of the Messiah, prophets who waited for centuries, who did not see that which they were waiting for, but trusted in the promise that it would come.
Even the shortened days (at least in the northern hemisphere) of these last weeks of the calendar year invite me to sit in the quiet dark and wait and think and reflect and pray.
And when I do? I find that the image of God in which I have been created is more apparent when I slow down and when I make space. I am more generous to people, more gracious about their faults, less fearful about a broken world, more inclined to see things from the perspective of faith.
And what of the joy?
I sit in my reading and writing place on a gray morning. I’m tired from a long weekend of heavy responsibilities, sitting with a long list of things that need to get done, and little energy to get up and do any of them. This is just the kind of day to ignore the joy around me.
Yet, to see and experience those things around me that could bring joy is a decision, a choice. I think of some pretty amazing Advent worship on Sunday, of the buzz after the services about what people found meaningful. To know that people were touched by God is one of the reasons I do what I do. Surely, there is joy in that.
At one of those services, a husband and wife who had two days earlier lost their 30-something son to death by cancer were in church. I watched as they wept, as they smiled at the ways their young granddaughters engaged in the service, and as countless numbers of their fellow pilgrims shared hugs and tears with them after the service. Surely there is joy in deep human connection.
Last night as I laid on our bed reading, our 40 pound poodle mix jumped up and threw herself against me, pawing at my hand until I began to scratch her neck. As I did so, she began to relax, and laid her head down looking into my eyes as she fell asleep. A mysterious moment of connection between man and beast. Surely, there is joy in that.
The point here is not that there is no chance for moments of joy. It’s that I have not become very adept or practiced at noticing them, countless numbers of them day in and day out. Perhaps too consumed by the urgent?
So, this will by my advent discipline. To step away from urgency. And to find joy.
Amen! You have captured an important concept in my advent preparation.
Well-thought, and well-written. These thoughts always need to be reviewed and re-affirmed among all of us. Comforting and encouraging!
The part about the dog? WHY DO YOU HAVE SUCH A HEAVY DOG?
Thanks, Bob. Well, when we got her, she was about 4 pounds. Who knew?!?! But she’s a sweetheart.
Thanks for your thoughts. I read these words a few months ago. They stay with me. “Do not let the urgent eliminate the important in your life.”
Thanks, Jill. And thanks for the words of wisdom.
Beautiful post, Jim! Amen, and amen.
Thanks, Cindy. We are always learning, right? Even when we’ve learned time and again.
Excellent reflection. I find myself deeply missing time for silence right now. Seminary is just as guilty of filling up all of our time with activities – from pages to be read, to papers and projects that must be completed. There is this false American idea that the only way we can show we know something is by producing something – and so we are pushed to produce lots of things. I am looking forward to the end of the semester when there will be time for silence and nothingness. Blessings.
Thanks, Matthew. Yup. This is one of those cases where the church has become captive to the culture rather than leading the culture in a different, more life-affirming direction. Blessings through the season!
Thanks, Jim, for your words of wisdom. Our to-do list is longer than ever this year, so your message has come at just the right time to remind us of what is most important during Advent. We will reflect upon your words many times in the days to come. Doris