The black, star-studded space of the night stared in the front window, silent… and mine. An empty circle of time and a vacant house had fallen in my lap for one blessed evening. Five unplanned hours to fill with light or action as I chose. But I couldn’t. I left the rooms dark. A headache forced me into unwonted hush, turned me from the chatterbox of TV or the blaze of a downtown cafe. I locked the doors in resignation and trundled upstairs to my bed. I set a favorite Christmas album to playing and lit three candles, but left all else in darkness. Laid down. The deep, unhindered peace of solitude sidled up to me, but I pushed it away. This was not how I wanted to spend my evening. Pain and irritation pulsed in my temples. A pack of worries scuttered through my brain and my mind leapt after them. I closed my eyes and gritted my teeth in protest at my lot.
But then, alleluia.
A new song played with a lone voice in a slow, single-word chant. It was as much a cry as a song, the sort of sound I imagine rocks or strong trees might make in the wilds if God appeared suddenly amidst them. That cry caught me by the wrist and dragged me out of my self-absorbed protest and into the present. My eyes came to sudden focus and I sat slightly up in the dark, aware, waiting. And it all came; quiet crept in first, like a shy child nestled against me. Shadows stepped out from their corners with warm faces and gentle hands. The lilt of the candlelight was a voiceless melody that caught the hands of my Irish carols and made them laugh. I saw the room around me and felt its presence so intently it was almost foreign. My soul lurched to its feet, abruptly aware of beauty in every atom of the darkened room, and of its Giver, whose name the song was blessing. But do you know what my soul said first?
Penitence took me by surprise. A flash flood of contrition rose in me as I saw abruptly that glory had been all around and I was unaware. Disgruntlement had dimmed my ability to see and grasp the beauty waiting for me in the unexpected quiet of that night. God, in every tiny light and note, had been with me, but I had not been with Him.
In that scrap of a minute, I saw my whole life writ large. That smidgen of beauty livened me to all I had ignored of late, all the minutes of joy and quiet that I had destroyed by my anger. My headache and frustration were small things perhaps, but they were the iceberg tips of a frenzied mind, a heart that had come unmoored from God. My past week had been one tumble of busy hours in which I was by turns stressed, irritated, and often, slightly outraged at life. There was no peace or yielding in me; my disquiet had blocked every path down which grace might walk. Beauty itself could smack me in the face and I would have smacked it back.
I have heard that in liturgical churches, Advent is sometimes called “Little Lent.” I thought of this as I sat in the dark. The great Lenten fast before Easter is a time of repentance, a time to clear away and renounce anything that would hinder the light of the risen Christ from flooding our hearts. But Advent is no less a time of preparation. The Christ child is coming, has come to us. God is here, glory hovers in our minutes and minds, ready to fill us with unwavering joy. But the dim paths of our hearts must be prepared. In that wakening moment in my room, I saw how cluttered was my road, how distracted I was by my own expectations of what life should be, what I deserved, what I desired.
So I repented, and still do. From so much busy worry I can’t be still. From anger at my less-than perfect days. From the tyranny of a self that demands days, hours, people, and God to behave as I desire. From hands unwilling to serve. I’ve decided to embrace the Lenten aspect of this Advent season. I’m doing a few practical things like banning computer and details from my early mornings and evenings. I’m committing to a few, fixed moments of full-souled prayer. But mostly, I am striving to make my mind, heart, and soul clear. I choose to begin this rich, rejoicing season by a ruthless sweep of the overgrown paths of my heart so that light can walk straight into my soul.
My quiet evening is past, but I have kept its hush. I have made, and guard, a silent space inside of myself where I sit, waiting. I scurry around my days, but my angst about life is shrinking as quiet fills me. Lights begin to flicker in my darkness. The shadows in my heart shift and music begins to play. A new song comes that fills me with a joy like light. My eyes are changed and I begin to see God reaching out to me in every instant of existence. I smile.
Christmas can finally come. The way is clear. Let the blessed season begin.