I woke, on this first day of Advent, knowing that the day was full, moving from church to work to writing (since my practice is to write everyday during the season), and hoping I could point my mind and heart in a direction that would give me something to say when I got home from work around eleven. Just before I left the house, I checked the Writer’s Almanac for my daily dose of poetry only to find that this particular First Sunday of Advent is the same day on which both Madeleine L’Engle and C. S. Lewis were born. And I said – out loud, “At least I know what I’m going to write about tonight.”
I met both writers when I was a child. Not in person, you understand. Mrs. Reedy read A Wrinkle in Time to us as reward for our hard work as fourth graders at the Lusaka International School; I don’t remember how The Lion, The Witch, & The Wardrobe ended up in my hands, but it set me off on adventures of my own as I climbed through the back of the wardrobe with Lucy and the others. I could fill up two or three shelves with books by the two of them, and write for several weeks about what each of the different books had meant to me. Therefore, I feel right in saying I met them when I was a child and they became my friends, though neither ever knew me.
Madeleine taught me about Advent, as well as the rest of the liturgical year. I have read and re-read The Irrational Season, which is a series of essays beginning with Advent (“The Night is Far Spent”), following the calendar through Epiphany and Lent and so on, and ending with Advent once more (“The Day is at Hand.”) I can’t get to my copy tonight because we have a friend visiting who is sleeping in the room where that book lives, and so I picked up one that stays here in the dining room, And It Was Good: Reflections on Beginnings, and paged through, reading what I had underlined many years ago. What I found reminded me that one of the strains of faith Madeleine has sung with resonance to my heart is that of connectedness.
Quanta, the tiny subatomic particles being studied in quantum mechanics, cannot exist alone; there cannot be a quantum, for quanta exist only in relationship to each other. And they can never be studied objectively, because even to observe them is to change them. And, like the stars, they appear to be able to communicate with each other without sound or speech . . . Surely what is true of quanta is true of the creation; it is true of quarks, it is true of human beings. We do not exist in isolation. We are part of a vast web of relationships and interrelationships which sing themselves in the ancient harmonies. Nor can we be studied objectively, because to look at us is to change us. And for us to look at anything is to change not only what we are looking at, but ourselves, too. (20,21)
My margin note reads, “Life is a group sport.”
This First Sunday also marks two years since Ginger came to what is now our church here in Durham. We moved because we felt God calling us here, which also meant leaving the Boston area, where we had spent all of our married life together, save the first four months. Two years means we have been here long enough to begin to find new friendships, which take time to grow, and long enough to be reminded moving does not mean forgetting. “I thank my God when I remember you,” Paul wrote, “because you have filled my life with joy.” Those words were burned into my heart because of a song the Youth Choir in Fort Worth sang to and for us as we were leaving them for Boston. Perhaps it is the lyric that best fits the ancient harmonies of which L’Engle speaks. Our daily lives are no more stable than the quarks and quanta, change being the defining word for all of us; what endures is love: love that calls our name from the past, love that greets us in the present, love that calls us into whatever the future might be.
Whatever it is, we will go together.
Seventeen or eighteen First Sundays ago, I went with Ginger to the church in Winchester for the first time. She had been the Youth Minister there for several months, but we didn’t have a car and I was in graduate school and teaching full time, so the prospect of losing a couple of hours to the commuter rail wasn’t an option for me. I slipped down Bunker Hill in Charlestown for early mass at the Episcopal church (again, thanks to Madeleine for the introduction) and then back home to study. Ginger came home one day and asked if I would be the prophet for Advent and walk in each Sunday in costume and read the lectionary passage. (Did I mention I had shoulder length hair and a beard at the time?) I think it was the second or third Sunday that Ginger came up with the idea that I should sing the chorus of “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord” from Godspell as I came up the aisle, and then again as I exited. She has served three churches since then and I have sung my way to prophecy in each one.
The song has left an indelible mark on my heart, because it reminds me of the faces and stories that have gone with my ritual; these too, are words that fit the ancient harmonies. Today, as I walked out, the congregation sang with me. However we prepare, we will do it together, which means it will not be the same as every other First Sunday. As Madeleine says,
We do not love each other without changing each other. (21)
In what was then the second book in the Narnia series, Prince Caspian, Lewis wrote a scene that added another theme to my life. The children return to Narnia, much older now, and Lucy, the youngest, keeps looking for Aslan, the Lion. When she finally finds him – well, let me let Lewis tell it.
“Aslan, Aslan. Dear Aslan,” sobbed Lucy. “At last.”
The great beast rolled over on his side so that Lucy fell, half sitting and half lying between his front paws. He bent forward and just touched her nose with his tongue. His warm breath came all round her. She gazed up into the large wise face.
“Welcome, child,” he said.
“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.”
“That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.
“Not because you are?”
“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.” (141)
God changes, too, along with the quarks and the quanta and the quixotic band of pilgrims that sang with me this morning, or in Marshfield, or in Winchester, or in any place where people gathered to watch and wait to get lost in wonder, love, and praise, singing in tune with the ancient harmonies that call us to connectedness and to change.