Living in expectation is a natural mode of being for us during the Advent Season. The colder weather of November and December puts me in the mind of anticipation. But not as much during the middle of summer. We may have once enjoyed the long summer days that stretch like the sun’s long arc across the clear blue sky while lazing on a beach, boating on a lake, or hiking in the mountains. Typically, we have no desire to see those days end. But this year, we have been moved in a different direction. September can’t come fast enough. We are anxious to see our children return to some familiar routine, we are eager to see a time when masks won’t be required, and if you’re like this particular priest (or this one), you can’t wait to partake of communion again. It seems that 2020 will be the year of waiting.
Yes, while the timing is off, our faith does teach us how to reorient ourselves amid waiting. We are a people who anticipate. We anticipate Christ’s return, we anticipate the Kingdom of God, and we anticipate healing and wholeness. Joyful anticipation is the Christian’s modus operandi. What I feel right now, however, is less joyful and more anxious, even terrifying at times. Yet, even Advent is the anticipation of the Christ child coming into a world of chaos and uncertainty, the world of despotic leaders, mass migration, and genocide. Advent reorients our chaotic lives around that calm beginning of Christ come into the world. But finding that calm can be a challenge.
Many Psalms, for me, have a mysterious calming effect in what biblical scholars sometimes call the “turn.” It is the moment when the psalmist is moved from a focus on self to a focus on the complete freedom of God to act. Walter Bruggeman, in his book The Psalms in the Life of Faith, uses Psalm 77, amongst others, to illustrate this “turn.” Verses 1-9 of the Psalm are engrossed in an attempt to orient God around one’s self-concern. The psalmist seems to attempt to manipulate God to meet their perceived needs, as represented in a series of “I” statements. Verses 11-20, in the use of “You” and “Your,” depict God’s imaginative freedom to act outside of those expectations. Perhaps, when we relieve ourselves of the desire to control and allow God the freedom to act, we find calm.
I imagine that being a source of calm in these times would be a gift to the world. Anxiety is contagious, after all. It can be passed from one person to the next by our tone, our pace, and choice of terms. Slowing down the racing news cycle and providing serene words of peace to our anxious family, friends, and neighbors might be a supreme act of love. I am certain that each of us can begin to reflect less the anxiety of these times and instead enact that peace that passes all understanding.
Do not look forward in fear to the changes in life; rather, look to them with full hope that as they arise, God, whose very own you are, will lead you safely through all things; and when you cannot stand it, God will carry you in His arms. Do not fear what may happen tomorrow; the same understanding Father who cares for you today will take care of you then and every day. He will either shield you from suffering or will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations.
-St. Francis De Sales (1567-1622)