The Christian season of Advent really does seem to sneak up on us. I think it has something to do with the activities of the late summer/fall seasonal cycle of school, work, sports and the many preoccupations that make the days seem to pass all too quickly. I just celebrated my 61st birthday and awoke to the reality that, just yesterday, I was thinking I still had three months until the event. The "yesterday" was three months ago. Now, here I was, driving to meet a dear friend for a birthday lunch and caught with the realization that it was now. It also meant that we had crossed into that season called "Advent"... the Coming.
Since my retirement, at the end of June, from active parish ministry, I have operated outside the intimacy of the liturgical year. As a parish priest, my life was driven by the engine of liturgical planning and the liturgical year....the inexorable cycle of moving through the calendar year in a sacred manner. Even with retirement, I have noticed that the "liturgical clock" keeps working somewhere deep inside. I just no longer have to plan and structure the environment in which that will be expressed. Now, I simply walk with it. As I step into the parish at which I happen to be worshipping (either Saturday evening or Sunday morning), I am now a passenger and sojourner in the environment created by others. For a guy like me, it took some getting used to .... turning my mind from planning, design, teaching, preaching to opening my heart for the experience into which I step.
Entering this Advent season, I carry some burdens that drive my daily schedule. There is the sale of our home and keeping everything at prime readiness for the next potential buyer's visit with an agent. There is always tweeking, touching up and cleaning up to keep everything as close to readiness as possible.
There is the purchase of our townhome in Sarasota, FL. It is in the process of being built as part of the development's final stage of completion. Not as much is required of us at this point. The major work was accomplished between the end of July and the first part of October. We are now in something of a waiting stage...being kept informed at every stage of building by the really good staff of folks who have guided us through the process. This is an anticipatory experience. It is the coordination of the sale of this house with the closing on the townhome that creates the minor anxiety.
Then, there is the change in my "new" shoulder joint. Even though the surgery was almost fourteen months ago, I really felt that I was only beginning to know this new titanium friend connecting my arm to my torso. Something began to change in the latter part of July, and mobility decreased from about 95% to probably about 40% in the space of a month. Pain began to replace the relative calm of post healing life with a replaced joint. At first, it was thought to be scar tissue forming (which happens). Renewed therapeutic exercises did nothing to help. Then, with xrays, it seemed as though I might have torn part of the rotator cuff system...much of which has to be cut during surgery to get to the bones that make the joint. A CT scan and other tests showed no tears but a lot of inflammation and fluid build up. Infection? Two aspirations and cultures showed no infection. Now, I am heading to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN for an evaluation and consult with the orthopedist considered the best in the country for this kind of thing. My surgeon here set this up.
Three words move through my mind as I experience life in this season: Now, Should, Ought. One might rightly ask what these words can possibly have in common. My experience of them come after years of living sacred cycles and now exercising the contemplative practices.
Let's start with the future tense words. Should suggests that there may be some directive to accomplish an act or a task in a specific manner or time frame. How often have we said to ourselves, "I should go to the grocery store tomorrow." Or, "You should rethink your decision about that job." It implies that self or the one speaking has the correct end result in mind and/or there is some kind of law "out there" that demands our movement in that particular direction.
Ought suggests that there is an obligation to function in a specific manner. It is a stronger word than "should." It implies that the one using the word knows exactly what must be done and lays the obligation upon the receiver to do it. The speaker is also suggesting that he/she knows what is best for the other, and the other risks rejection if it is not done. Examples: "You ought to take that job offer." "As a good Christian, you ought to believe this way (name it)." Of course, we can "ought" ourselves...as if there is an internal policeman or judge enforcing a law.
It is my earnest opinion that the words "should" and "ought" need to be removed from our active language. Someone recently told me that, in my retirement, I should engage in a specific program of activity for my future. While still in parish ministry, a parishioner sat in my office and told me, "You should never have been a parish priest." This, after 31 years of doing that work. What omniscience do these folks possess that they know the direction of the Holy Spirit. Should and ought border on blasphemous language.
What about "now?" The suggestion is obvious. It is the moment. It is the time, space, and action that is taking place as we engage life in "real time." It is an unfolding. And, now is eternal.
That last statement above may catch us out a bit. Now is eternal? Yes, because it is always now. Now never leaves us. It call us to be present to ourselves, to our environment and to one another in the moment. That moment is always here. How much time is spent bemoaning what we "should have done" or "ought to have done." It's wasted energy and time. It calls us to realize that we are not perfect or omniscient. If so, we would have known and done what we now regret. Instead, why not simply affirm the thoughts and actions of the past and determine what needs to be done now to adjust the actions of this moment. The past becomes a resource for being now.
We do have some obligation to plan and prepare for the future, but cannot write the script. Life -- both spatial and eternal -- is fluid. I could not have anticipated that the work ahead of me would include probably having my "new" shoulder replaced and undergoing whatever procedure and process will lead to healing the mess in that joint. We had no idea that we would be moving to Florida until literally 10 days before I retired. Even then, it didn't become a more solid reality until late July. The future of life is always fluid. All that we have that is concrete are the actions, thoughts and engagement of now.
While Advent literally means "Coming." It is what we do now that makes us ready to receive the Grace of God in Christ Jesus. It is now that opens us to the full experience of God's Love. It is now that awakens us to the presence of the Kingdom and the insight into our purpose for being.
As I write this, I look out the window at the barren maple tree in our front yard and the pin oak, whose bronze leaves hold tenaciously to the branches until spring buds or strong winds push them away. In the moment, they look dead. But they simply sleep for a time. They are in the moment of their reality.
Can we be so present to our moment that we respond with the fullness of life and light? Every moment is a now to be embraced and celebrated. Only if the lamps remain lighted will we be present for the bridegroom's arrival. Our destiny is always......now!
In Christ's Love,