Advent Mindfulness

First Sunday of Advent

We’re all tired of Covid. It’s been nine months of washing and using hand sanitizer and wearing masks and social distancing, of numbers of positive cases surging overnight and taking forever to decline, of hospitals and clinics predictably being overwhelmed and only sporadic news of patient recovery and discharge, of healthcare professionals and community leaders pleading everyone get on board with the program one moment and pockets of the population behaving recklessly the next convinced neither they nor their loved ones will ever be in any real danger. It reminds me of a room of rowdy students, and the teacher just keeps unceremoniously resetting the stopwatch because there’s always that clown who won’t take the warning seriously and won’t settle down, so the countdown keeps restarting at 5 minutes.

And now it’s Advent and we’re still dealing with Covid. And come Christmas we will still be dealing with Covid. And then we’ll probably still be dealing with Covid come the New Year, and spring. And with all our luck we’ll be dealing with Covid right through Lent and Easter, and maybe the summer and beyond. And we’re all tired of Covid. Have I said that enough? And escaping our notice entirely, time is slowly congealing into an amorphous cluster of admirable intentions and unintended regrets, and events imagined and actual, and lackluster beginnings and dreary endings and everything unremarkable in between. The calendar on the wall that used to be a dependable record of remembrances past and celebrations to come intended to remind us of life’s blessings and our sometimes awesome sometimes tenuous connections with family and the human race has turned into a haphazard mess of days and weeks and months strung together without rhyme or reason. And we have clung desperately to every marker and milestone resembling some ordered pattern while most everything reliable has crumbled away or washed down the drain. Too grim?

And people everywhere are coping in unconventional ways, developing creative approaches to while away the long, dark, boring, and unrelenting storm of isolation and powerlessness. They’ve created poetry and music and video to give vent to their silent rage in grand artistic fashion. They’ve binged on Netflix and Prime. They’ve devoured conspiracy theories by the boatload. They’ve consumed outrageous quantities of alcohol and junk food. They’ve raved and ranted unrestrained on social media; and marched defiantly in protests across the country. I know it’s unhealthy to keep our frustrations bottled up, but it seems we’ve just gone off the rails completely. But also I’ve heard of people learning new skills and planting a vegetable garden and building a fire pit in the backyard. I’m not suggesting we throw out normalcy altogether and live like savages. Just maybe we allow some lines to blur and gently extend compassion toward those on the fringe, especially where no one gets hurt or inconvenienced, and we can still deliver on the fundamentals like God’s awesome love and abundant mercy.

That said, I’m laying off my seasonal year-end guilt trip. I have to admit it was always a losing battle anyway. Although Advent has just started, I won’t shoot daggers at you if I hear “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Hanukkah” or “Happy Kwanzaa” or “Merry Chrismukkah” or “Happy Holidays.” If you may have felt particularly singled out or shamed in the past, I apologize. I promise not to criticize or roll my eyes on your early holiday observance. I realize it’s been a hard year for many. People have lost employment and wages, and the chance for a normal life with opportunities for self-realization, personal growth, nurturing human interaction, and whatever constitutes success and fulfillment. So to compensate for all the darkness in their lives, many have resorted to uncovering joy and hope in the simplest, the easiest, and the most ordinary experiences they have ever known, generating environments that affirm, and embracing life with all the beauty and wonder it brings. Christmas trees and lights have gone up as early as mid-summer. Christmas carols may be a different story, but I suspect some of you have been listening as far back as Halloween. It’s no big deal really. Observing the Advent season goes so much deeper into the heart of our Christian discipleship. It’s not going to unravel from a mention of Santa Claus or Rudolph or Frosty or the Grinch.

The season of Advent is a mildly abrasive and soothing reminder that the annual commemoration approaches of the birth in human history of the only begotten Son of God, and the planet is soon to mark yet another trip around the sun, and we are on an ongoing journey toward the eternal Jerusalem where God in his boundless mercy will share the fulness of fellowship with his people. It doesn’t translate much into anything remotely urgent or immediately consequential. That is perhaps why Advent is largely ignored even by Christians who will claim their faith is a major factor in their moral decision making and way of life. But that’s probably because Advent has failed to capture the Christian imagination, especially when we are more captivated by blinking lights and familiar carols and huge discounted sales and spiced eggnog. Who would rather a season of mild introspection and self-denial, and a friendly reminder that the lord of the house is coming, and we need to watch out he doesn’t catch us nodding off?

Perhaps we need to reimagine Advent as a time to slow down and regain a more spiritual mindfulness. We will always be more inclined to embrace entertainment since it demands little work on our part other than delight or scorn, immediate or delayed, and sometimes whatever energy it takes to like, retweet, or fire off a disapproving comment or emoji. Instead Advent invites us deeper into a place of quiet mystery and joyful anticipation. The feast of Thanksgiving is actually an opportune segue into seeing with our hearts the most pressing needs of others and heeding the gospel’s invitation to attend to the work entrusted to the household of God namely, that we proclaim Good News and care for our neighbor. No twinkling lights or wafting holiday melodies or Black Friday discounts or extra calories should have power to throw off our deeper Advent mindfulness. I believe we will be held to account less for how well we fended off Christmas commercialism than that we kept focus on the work of the kingdom.

If Christmas trees and Christmas lights in mid-summer did little harm to our observance of Ordinary Time, but instead dispelled darkness and lifted weary spirits, they should have as much effect on Advent. But we could welcome a deeper spiritual mindfulness amid our Covid weariness. God is ever and always loving and merciful whatever the season or time of year. And if we stayed mindful of the deeper spiritual truths and lived by them intentionally, we can be certain God’s gracious love and abundant mercy is proclaimed.

Rolo B Castillo © 2020

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