It’s been a long time since I felt ready.
Perhaps it’s because this past year has been one of settling in, rather than moving on. Maybe it’s because I’m an hour and a half away from December and I don’t feel depressed (which is new for this time of year – at least in recent memory). Then again, it could be because I’ve spent the better part of the year working hard at my job and not reading as much as I’m accustomed to do, or writing as much as I wanted, and I’m ready for a centering season to remind me who I am and who I want to become. Perhaps all of the above are true. What I know is I am stepping into the season with energy and expectation, rather than the desperation of Advents past, which is enough to release a river of gratitude.
I feel awake. I feel alive. I feel thankful. And I’m determined to read.
My practice in Advent has been to pick a couple of books as traveling companions, and I usually chose ones of a theological nature. This year, I invited one and one invited me to take a bit of a different road to Bethlehem. My friends Lori and Terry gave me God: stories, which is a collection of short stories that have spiritual themes edited by C. Michael Curtis. From my bookshelf, I chose The Faith of a Writer: Life, Craft, Art by Joyce Carol Oates, a book I don’t remember acquiring. I want to grow as a person, a Christian, a writer, and a reader during these days, and I’m hopeful my traveling companions will help me find my way.
I was the prophet today during worship, as I am each Sunday of Advent, walking down the aisle singing, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord,” and then delivering the prophetic passage for the day, which was Isaiah 64:1-9. Isaiah’s prayer/sermon was first spoken during the Babylonian exile during a time when the people of God had chosen to be held captive by their fear rather than being compelled by their calling. It’s not one of the passages that rings with resonance because of a phrase made famous; it’s not even that easy to understand in some places.
The opening story in Curtis’ book is “Exodus” by James Baldwin. It centers around Florence, the daughter of a freed slave who, after hearing her mother’s story of walking off the plantation one day, dreams of the day of her exit, and finally chooses it, even though she must leave her mother on her death bed.
Oates’ tells first of “District School #7, Niagara County, New York,” the one room schoolhouse where she began her education and learned to read. Though her recollections gave me pause to reflect on my first school days, she described a world I have never known.
I was not moved, particularly, by any of the stories I read today. I didn’t come away with a quote or anecdote to share or remember. All three feel like people who get on the bus at your stop and ride with you awhile, rather than ture traveling companions. And so I’ve taken time to notice them a bit, in the same way I used to study people riding on the bus in hopes of remembering them for characters in my stories at a later time. I see a story of a prophet calling out to people who feel trapped and have allowed themselves to resign to it; a woman who feels trapped and chooses to break out at great cost; and a woman who looks back on a trap she escaped without knowing she was ever in it. When I look at the stories that way, I’m familiar with all three, for I have stories to tell of living in all three conditions.
As a high school student I learned about the arc of a story, which had not changed by the time I became a high school English teacher: introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, denoument – all of it driven by conflict (person vs. person, person vs. nature or technology, person vs. his or herself). Tonight I start my Advent story with much conflict to speak of. Since I’ve been using a bus metaphor, so I’ll stick with it, for now. My story opens on a season of open road, riding on a bus with two books I don’t know well on a journey that leads to an ending I already know.
This ought to be riveting, don’t you think?
I used to play golf. My last summer of college was the best of my golfing career. The reason was we played everyday. A group of us took early classes and then headed for the links every afternoon. Since it was summer in Waco, we had no trouble getting a tee time; it was one hundred and fifty degrees. Playing the same course everyday gave me a chance to grow as a golfer because I learned from both my mistakes and my successes. That summer – and only that summer – I was an under 90 golfer.
After fifty-two Christmases, there are still things for me to learn from walking the same road to Bethlehem, singing the same songs, hearing the same words, and welcoming Jesus into our hearts and our world, again. Well, that’s not exactly right. I will do well to remember the destination may be the same, but the journey will not. I am starting from a different place, both physically and personally, and I have some different companions. And I feel ready, which, as I said, is a new starting place for me.
We’ll see where the story goes.