advent journal: can’t you read the signs


    Yesterday morning marked the first time in several days that I had to answer my five o’clock alarm telling me it was time to get ready for school. Gracie, our middle Schnauzer, was grateful for the return to routine because it meant she got to eat earlier and it was a return to routine, which runs high on a Schnauzer’s list of priorities.

    I realized as the shower washed my sleep away that I had disconnected from my daily life quite thoroughly over the Thanksgiving holiday. I had not looked at one paper in the bag I brought home with me and had instead spent the days filling the house with the aromatics of good food and conversation. Even the couple of short shifts I worked at the computer store had not felt invasive. It was good.

    My first period class is a Sociology elective which I am teaching because there is no one else to do so. The social studies teacher left early in the year and they just gave us more classes rather than replace him. I was able to find a useable curriculum, thanks to our Academic Dean, but I’m still scrambling. One more hill – remember? Today, the lesson was an experiment in nonverbal communication. I had a page full of signs – fifty of them – and the kids had to decipher the meaning of each one, or so said the instructions on the handout I found in my notes. We started down the list. The first was a line drawing of an airplane.

    “Airplane,” said one of the boys.

    “Yes, that’s what it is,” I responded, “but look at the question: what does it mean? What does it represent?”

    The kid furrowed his brow and said, less confidently, “Airport?”

    “Good,” I said. “You’re getting the idea.” And we kept working our way down the page.

    Signs, signs, everywhere signs . . . but even the Five Man Electrical Band had to know the signs weren’t always easy to read.

    Tonight I met folks from our church at the shelter where I turned down a job last year. I love going there. Tonight, I made individual meatloaves (think big giant meatballs) for three hundred. We have a great group of people who come to prepare and serve the meal, which we do four or five times a year. I chose not to go there because it was a big job and they didn’t offer enough paid time off to keep me from burning out. As good as it felt to cook there, I couldn’t shake the sense that it was not the right move. I made meaning of the signs as best I could and tonight I was back using my one night off this week from my two jobs to dig elbow deep into ninety pounds of ground beef and have a great time.

    do this don’t do that
    can’t you read the signs

    The gospel narratives that tell us the story of Jesus’ birth are filled with signs, and with people who read them and act. When Gabriel tells the young girl, Mary, what was going to happen to her all Luke records is that she said, “Let it be as you said.” Joseph freaked at first in his angelic encounter, but followed the signs all the way to Bethlehem. All it took was a starlight concert to get the shepherds to abandon their charges and head to town. And then, of course, there were the Magi who had been star-gazers for years quite happy to sit out on their porches and stare into the dark until that One Star started shining – and off they went.

    Sometimes I wish those who wrote the stories down had done so in a time when storytelling was a bit more evolved, where process and detail mattered a bit more. Our gospel writers had their poetic moments, but they were theologians more than tale spinners. They wanted to get to The Point, which was when God gives a sign, do what the sign says. Still, I wish one of them had taken time to write how Mary looked at Gabriel and said, “Dude – I’m fourteen!”, or Joseph shook his head and responded, “My mother is going to freak out.”

    Every significant move I have made in my life, or Ginger and I have made together, I can say, we did with a sense of assurance that we were responding to a call – following a sign, if you will. We made good choices, sometimes hard choices; we have found great things and we let some things go.

    As all of us have done.

    When I look at my life, over the last ten or twelve years in particular, the voice of the Holy Spirit starts to sound a lot like the woman in my GPS when I make a wrong turn: “Recalculating . . . .” Perhaps that is why I find comfort in imagining the line from the Magnificat to the Manger was not necessarily a straight one. I also imagine that four weeks out from Christmas Mary was as ready for the baby to come as anyone. This year, Advent falls between signs for me, I suppose. I am not at a settled place in my life (old friends, feel free to laugh loudly at the idea that my life has ever been settled) and the signs are not clear. There are no angels or choirs or voices other than the daily reminders that I am called to live in the in-between, in the “recalculating,” and the love as deep as the dark.



    1. Milton,
      So glad you are sharing these posts with us this Advent.

      When I read lines like “the voice of the Holy Spirit starts to sound a lot like the woman in my GPS when I make a wrong turn: “Recalculating . . . .” “, I say to myself. “exactly. why didn’t I think of that?”

      But, importantly and gratefully, I realize… I am not alone, in my experience or in reality.

      Thank you.

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