Tag Archives: joy

Advent and the Spirit of Joyless Urgency

urgencyI’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.

On Living in Fear. Or Not.

lockdowndrill.jpgLast week, I made the last of my confirmation visits to our seventh grade students, the ones entering our two-year confirmation process. Most of the visit is about just getting to know the students, what they are interested in, what school is like for them, what they did over the summer. When I asked about school and about how the year had started for him, the student I was visiting stopped me and suddenly became much more animated. He began to recount what had happened that very day. He told about a drill they had to go through to help prepare them for what might happen if a shooter came into their school.

They were told over the intercom that the school was on lockdown and that they should initiate the protocol for an emergency involving an armed intruder to the school. During the first week of school, they had been told what to do; they knew the drill, literally. So, the entire class of students huddled in a corner of the room away from the door and windows and the teacher locked the classroom door.

They didn’t know whether or not it was a drill. They didn’t know that it wasn’t, and the student said they thought it probably was, but they weren’t told whether it was or not. He talked about the wave of fear that overcame the huddled group of students when someone came to their classroom door, unlocked it and stepped in. It was someone the student hadn’t seen before, and his first thought was that this was real and someone had just entered their classroom to harm them.

As it turned out, it was a new custodian who apparently hadn’t gotten the word about the drill and was just going about his work of emptying trash cans. ‘

This all happened last Thursday, ironically, the same day that the mass shooting happened at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. Of course, the students didn’t know any of that, and I suppose it doesn’t matter. Only one of those strange, haunting coincidences.

As I sat there listening to this seventh grade student — a bright, well-adjusted, very gifted and articulate student who is growing up in a stable family with two parents who love him and provide for him — my heart sank.

I get the idea of safety drills. No one ever knows what is going to happen and practicing what to do if the bad stuff happens makes some sense. I grew up on the plains of western Nebraska, an area where tornadoes were not uncommon; we went through tornado drills and fire drills. We always knew when they were drills and when they weren’t. We’d do our thing of getting out of the school for a fire drill, or getting down under our desks for the tornado drill, and then it would be over and we’d get back to our business.

But I never worried about someone coming into my school intent on shooting us. Now, our children worry about that. And in the case of the drill fail at a local middle school last Thursday, we had a group of students who for a split second thought that their nightmares were coming true.

I think it’s bad enough that so many lives are ending too quickly and too violently because of gun violence in this country. I think it’s horrifying that we witness so many mass shootings.

But think about this. Aside from the massive, senseless loss of life, we are raising a generation of children who are learning to be afraid. We are teaching them to be afraid of someone coming into their school to shoot them, that we have to worry about terrorism every time we get on an airplane, and that people who look different are to be distrusted because they could be terrorists. The pervasive culture of fear, especially for our children, is among  the most tragic consequences of all.

For now, let me state the obvious, and something which requires a choice for each of us: we don’t have to live in fear.  Parents, we don’t have to live in fear. Let your kids know we don’t have to live in fear. There is a big, beautiful, awe-inspiring world out there, full of wonder and mystery, full of abundance and beauty. The bogeyman under the bed wins if we let him. We can choose to embrace what is good and beautiful about life, about community, about the people around us, the ones we know and the ones we don’t. We can live with curiosity and gratitude. Joy is possible. We can live hopefully, knowing that together we can curb the impulses to fear and the violence and hatred that engenders it. Choosing to see the good and dwell on it is the antidote to living in fear.

I get my 35 middle school students for 90 minutes a week, and I’m determined that this is going to be a drumbeat with them. While there are scary things out there — there always have been — we don’t have to live in fear. I’m not about to let the madness draw my attention away from that.