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Do you ever feel like the fella in the center of this photo…like you’re standing stock-still while the world races around you? It can be an unnerving position to be in. But maybe it’s exactly where you need to be. What’s so bad about allowing the world to whirl while keeping your own feet firmly planted? So what if everyone is “getting ahead of you”? To where? And why hurry? Finding your still point just might bring you peace.

There is always,
in the chaos,
a still point:
the eye of the storm.
The nucleus of the atom.
The immovable stone
that knows its home
and sees no point in rolling.
And you?
Can you watch without wanting
to merge? To do with less? To linger?
Perhaps it is not poker we’re playing,
it’s a longer game; the kind where you wait
for ages to play your eight. Keep your cards close.
Stand pat. The world has more time in it than you know.
Count on the dealer to give you a sign.
There is no place like the present
to begin.

It seems as if we’re always waiting for God — to answer our prayers, to point us in a new direction, to give us a sign. But why would God lag behind us? It is ludicrous to contemplate. God, if anything, is way ahead of us. What if the truth is this: God is actually waiting for us — to do something, to hear something, to be something. How would we respond? More importantly, how will we respond when we realize it’s happening right this very minute?

You’d tap your watch if you wore one
to indicate my tardiness, and still
I cannot plumb your intentions.
Whatever sign you sent, I missed:
the alarm too silent for my aging ears,
the town crier lost on the wrong street.
I am left imagining your expression —
mildly amused? Vaguely disgruntled?
Or endlessly patient — that would wound
most, I think, the inference of my neglect.
You’ve given me boards, washers, screws,
but the instructions, I believe, are in Swedish.
Are we building a table? Or a catapult?
Should I pack a suitcase or board up the door?
I know the answer of course, it is there,
hiding behind the author of Hedda Gabler
and the words to every Beatles song.
Just out of reach. Fuzzy, near forgotten.
Only fear keeps me from finding it.
So I will pray for courage.
The courage to be on time.

It’s a new year! Well, sort of. Advent marks the start of a new liturgical year in the Catholic Church. I suppose it is apropos that the new year begins with waiting. We spend such a vast amount of time doing it, after all: waiting in line (or “on line” if you’re from the Midwest), waiting for doctors and plumbers and cable repair persons, waiting for mail to arrive and children to get dressed and pets to do their business. Waiting to eat, to sleep, to give birth, to die.

All of life is waiting, in a way. Advent merely provides additional practice. But what are we waiting for? For a child to be born into a manger? That already happened. For that child to come again? Yes, but that’s constant, not necessarily Advent-specific. I think we’re really waiting for a change of heart.

Remember how you felt at Christmastime when you were a child? Remember when just seeing lights strung on houses and carols being sung could lift your heart right up to your throat? Somewhere along the line, we lose that sense of wonder. How can we get it back? Maybe that’s the challenge of Advent.

My father-in-law was manning the bell and kettle for the Salvation Army one Christmas, outside of a store, when a little boy — obviously disabled — came struggling up to him. In his mittened hand, he held a clutch of crumpled dollar bills. His mother explained that it was his Christmas money; he wanted to donate it to people who really needed it. My father-in-law still tells this tale with tears in his eyes.

This advent, I am waiting for that little boy — his spirit, anyway — to rise up in me like a tide and wash away my grown-up skepticism and wariness. I want to receive Christmas as purely and joyfully as a child. And I want to give away that pure joy as rapidly as it spools into my heart. I think that’s a worthy thing to wait for. Don’t you?

Stop me if I’ve told this one before (Ha! As if you could stop me!): My husband and I were leaving the doctor’s office when the kind receptionist apologized for our wait. “That okay,” said hubby, “I brought a book.” “That’s okay,” I replied, “I have a vivid imagination.”

What I meant, of course, is that I can occupy myself practically endlessly with just the machinations of my own kooky brain. Still, that doesn’t always make waiting easy. Sure, I waited three years for kitchen counters (and I cook every blessed day), but just waiting for Yahoo to get it together this morning and SHOW ME MY BLOODY MAIL made me go all kinds of cuckoo. Waiting can be insufferable sometimes.

Advent, the liturgical season leading up to Christmas, is a time of waiting, too. We are called to “stay awake,” and “keep watch,” but for what? For a savior that was born a long time ago? No. For a savior that is returning — and for the march of Providence (sometimes it feels like a tiptoe) in our lives, leading us to our spiritual destinies.

Where are we going? How do we get there? Persons of faith know their desired destination — heaven — but getting there is another kettle of fish altogether. Yes, we have Jesus’ own words to help us: Feed the poor, shelter the homeless, be kind and merciful, forgive one another. This is all bricks-and-mortar stuff. But the specific way in which we reach enlightenment…that’s different for each of us.

I spend a good deal of time wondering if I’m on the right path. Am I using my gifts to my fullest ability? Am I giving enough? What is God calling me to do now? These are not easy questions to answer. I often strain to hear the voice of God. But I also have faith that I did not get where I am now on my own. I am here for a reason — God must want me here. I just need to figure out why.

If you, too, are in a “holding pattern” in your life, wondering which way to go, be of good cheer. Advent is your season. Be patient and listen, but also know that you did not arrive at your current destination by chance. God is leading, guiding. All you have to do is stay awake. And maybe bring a book.

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Have a Mary Little Christmas

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