By Rick Berube
CSS Associate Chaplain
I enjoy mountain biking a lot. During this cold season, of course, my bike hangs idle in the garage, and it is only in my dreams that I travel the single track. For now, I’ll clean the bike up a bit, change a cable or two, check the brake pads, and replace the chain. In lieu of biking, I’ll do a little more walking to keep myself fit, hope for an early Spring and look forward to getting on the road again.
A helpful analogy of life’s journey, for me, is the anticipation of a mountain bike excursion on a long, sometimes challenging single-track pathway, leading to a distant mountain top. I will need plenty of water, some food and bike maintenance items.
I will encounter ups and downs and many obstacles on the route. I will slightly deviate from the track when its markings have faded. Enticed into cul-de-sacs or forced to take a few detours, I will possibly know moments of confused wandering. I will manage a few injuries and hopefully avoid major setbacks or catastrophe. And with my more brittle physiology these days, I will rely on many pit stops. Hopefully with a companion’s help, I will maintain some composure, get on the road again, and keep pushing toward the resting, the panorama and the exhilaration at the summit.
Sunday, the 3rd of December, marked the start of the four-week Advent season which ushers in the Church’s year-long liturgical journey of anticipation, and of hope and discovery. I understand this best as a voyage whose itinerary invites us to get on the road again, engaging us in a series of planned gatherings, events, and activities that help keep us focused on reaching our journey's goal: a communion with the Divine in our present-day living. Personally, if I am to remain engaged in this great voyage of discovery, I need the discipline, the reminders, the ritual prompts, the frequent road signs, and the guidance that will keep me going in the right direction. I know that if I don’t prepare a bit and ready myself for eventualities, my life can be lived in confusion and disappointment.
This journey is what the Church provides through the liturgical dance she engages us in during the changing seasons of life. It all begins with the anticipation of Christ’s birth at Christmas.
So much of what we experience in life involves anticipation, preparation and hope. During the two weeks just preceding Christmas day, the liturgy prepares us for the incarnation, Christ’s First Coming two thousand years ago. But in the first two weeks of Advent, the liturgy in some way is more relevant to my present day: it speaks of Christ’s Second Coming, which I interpret not so much as a future “end of time” event, but of His revelation to me today, in this moment, as the fruit of my everyday journey. It speaks of hope, of getting me on the road again.
Redirecting us onto the road, then, spiritually speaking, is the purpose of Advent, and ultimately of the entire year’s liturgical itinerary.
We know that the person we have become today is mostly the function of our past: our upbringing, the things we did, how we were affected by circumstances, the values we developed, the events that came crashing into our lives, and how we responded. All these experiences have brought each of us to this volatile, moving present, the elusive now that seems so hard to hold onto. I am amazed at how much of my life is not fully lived in certainty of the moment. Rather, it is lived in anticipation, looking forward with interest and eagerness (or dread) to an expected event, a state, an arising, an experience, or an encounter, and needing to plan for it. The trouble is, I am so easily focused on the hope of this future that I become almost oblivious to the present, into which all that can be hoped for has already been infused. Indeed, as He took his physical leave from them, Jesus said to his disciples: “Know that I am with you, always” (Matthew 28).
I think that Advent invites us to get on the road again and embrace what we are destined to, a communion with the Divine. The integrity, the unity and the wholeness of our lives, past present and future, are reconciled in this Advent season.