I am notoriously behind the liturgical season. I show up to Lent late; The Resurrection isn't quite visible for a couple of weeks post-Easter day. Most of the time, I simply wait. I've resolved that I am on my own timeline and as such, the liturgical calendar is less of a strict schedule and more of a basic guideline.
With all that in mind you can imagine my surprise when I awoke today and it was Advent. That is, the calendar didn't just say today was the first day of the season and friends weren't just sending me messages to wish me a happy new year. No. When I opened my eyes, I knew it was Advent. In my heart, in my mind, and in my soul, a time of waiting has begun.
As I stared up at the ceiling of my bedroom, I talked to God. (We've been doing a lot of that lately.) The past few months have brought blessings and challenges. Some I had hoped for for the longest time, others have come of their own accord, and still others have been rude awakenings, teaching in their own perversely delightful way. All of these have accompanied me through these first few month of religious life; they were, in some way, shape, or form, to be expected. Now, though, I find myself on the edge of what seems to be completely unknown.
Coming to this life, making the transition, was unknown for sure, but it was the type of unknown that while mysterious is not completely unbeknownst. There are hints of what it will be like, your gut tells you certain things will be true, and so when things (events, lessons, blessings) occur they seem somewhat familiar although they are new.
Recent days, though, are uncovering a true unknown before me. Who am I being called to be? What does this world need? What is the future of religious life? What is becoming of the Church? Who is listening to the Spirit? What must I become and what do I need to surrender? All of this is unknown. I can't even speculate what the answer is or might be. All I do know is that it requires faith in the present moment, in where God has led me so far, and faith in the future, of God's continued presence and ongoing creation... that is hope.
That is what God cries out to each one of us on these cold, dark December nights. Have hope. Hold tight to faith. I do not forget my promises. I will be the Way. That is the cry that we listen attentively for- the new creation within each one of us in this season and the cry of a little baby that is still weeks away, which we have heard before but which we wait to hear with new ears. That cry asks us to be present, to wait attentively, to hold tight to faith, and no lose our sense of hope. The future holds wonder, we simply need faith.
Each day is an opportunity for this. A new day for learning and growing. No one says that it will be easy but, as Christians, we are a people of hope- caled to be the cry of hope and joy we ourselves listen for.
In thinking of this, I remember the four martyred American Churchwomen: Ita Ford (pictured above), Maura Clark, Jean Donovan, and Dorothy Kazel. Today is also their day: the anniversary of their martyrdom 32 years ago in El Salvador. I have reflected on the hope they share with me before. But today, as Advent begins, the hope and faith they offer is all the more poignant.
Today it is Dorothy Kazel, the Ursuline Sister of the group, who speaks to me:
El Salvador, Savior of the World, is writhing in pain – a country that daily faces the loss of so many of its people – and yet a country that is waiting, hoping, yearning for peace. The steadfast faith and courage our leaders have to continue preaching the Word of the Lord, even though it may mean laying down your life in the very REAL sense, is always a point of admiration and a vivid realization that JESUS is HERE with us. Yes, we have a sense of waiting, hoping, and yearning for a complete realization of the Kingdom, and yet we know it will come because we can celebrate Him here right now.
Despite all the unknowns and all that awaits, we pause to remember that what we await is, in fact, right here before us. Jesus is Here. The Kingdom is coming. Despite all the darkness, light will guide our way.
And so, Advent begins.
Today is the day. The dawning of a new year. A day of mourning for all that has passed away, all that we have lost in the last year and yet it is also a day full of hope as we of look forward to what is ahead, the promise of renewal and new beginnings.
Today is a day to be lived into. A day to discover something new. A day to have faith in the future tense. A day to be who we truly are.