It’s Advent now, and there is a heightened sense of the absolute for me. There is just something so concrete about Advent. It is a preparation for a definite thing, the birth of the Savior. The Crucifixion and Easter happened just as assuredly I know, but there are always thoughts of personal salvation caught up in my contemplation of Easter. Runes and mysteries that I cannot fathom surround the resurrection of a God-man who suffered and died for sin-ridden me. I am at once joy-filled at His sacrifice, but knowledgeable that I am but a mortal struggling to live up to that Resurrection. It’s complicated.
There is none of that in my psyche throughout Advent. It is all joy and hope and the concrete surety that the Christ child will be born of the virgin again, that He will signal to bedazzled shepherds and inquisitive kings that things have changed. Christmas is a glorious celebration not of what’s to come but of what already is. God is with us. God has come. We are blessed.
None of this is high theology, just the sorts of things that rattle about my head.
My wife, blessing to my life that she is, and I are reading for Advent The Reed of God by Caryll Houselander. I’ve mentioned it and her before, but I must insist that if you have not read it, this is an ideal time to pick up a copy and start.
One of the things I do so love about Caryll – I feel I can call her Caryll for I do not doubt that we would have gotten along famously over mixed drinks and dry humor – is that she’s ever so practical about the importance of our this-worldliness. She is not a spiritual writer for the cloistered mystic in the wood, sitting atop the pillar for ages on end in deepest contemplation of the divine. Rather, she is the spiritual writer for the woman at the sink, washing the dishes. She is the writer for the fellow in the car, once again off to work in the dark hours of the morning only to return home in darkness again.
Here is a bit of what she writes to show you what I mean:
There are many people in the world who cultivate a curious state which they call ‘the spiritual life.’ They often complain that they have very little time to devote to the ‘spiritual life.’ The only time that they do not regard as wasted is the time they can devote to pious exercises: praying, reading, meditations, and visiting the church.
All the time spent in earning a living, cleaning the home, caring for the children, making and mending clothes, cooking and all the other manifold duties and responsibilities, is regarded as wasted.
Yet it is really through ordinary human life and the things of every hour of every day that union with God comes about.
Caryll goes on to point out that we often busy ourselves with explanations for how we cannot possibly be made of the “right stuff” for the deep and abiding spiritual life that we must pursue. Holiness is all well and good for St. Thomas More or St. Catherine Sienna, but I am a bit busier with life than they all were. I’ve got bills. I’ve got children who, in a different culture and a different time, cannot be expected to behave as More’s children did. Neither do I have the right attitude or spiritual tendencies. I’m too easily distracted in prayer. I haven’t the interest in spiritual things to cultivate this “spiritual life” about which the saints and the church talk. It’s just not for me.
To this, good Caryll notes the following:
Christ is not restricted to any type: the glory of God is not more manifest in a strapping young man or woman marching behind the banner of Christianity than in one of the slaughtered innocents of Bethlehem or in the repentant thief dying on the cross.
The most striking example of the material God can and does use to manifest His glory is Lazarus.
Lazarus was not even alive; he was dead, and according to his chief mourners, stinking; but Christ used him as the material for showing forth the glory of God in a way surpassed only by His own Resurrection. The moment of His own Resurrection was a secret, a secret between His Heavenly Father and Himself. But the raising of Lazarus dazzled the world.
So consider that, next time you’re tempted to think you are not quite up to snuff. Christ managed to shine through the material of a man three-days-dead. Who are you to think that He can’t use you too for the greater glory of God?
Do take this time during Advent to prepare yourself for the coming of the Christ child. Pick up some spiritual reading, even if it isn’t Caryll Houselander, and prepare. I shall do the same with you, and we can reconnoiter at the end of the journey, with the Christ child at our side, and consider how best to give God glory. Bless you.