by Kat Speeckaert
As my church life starts gearing up for Advent I find myself, once again, filled with a heavy dread. I hate this season. The past few years have been marked by the same feeling of wanting this to not be happening. I want Advent to be over. I want Advent to never even begin.
I love the Feast of the Nativity, but I can’t stand Advent.
I used to love the layered ambiguity of this time, the emphasis on the already-not-yet Kingdom of God, Christ who has come, is coming, and will come again. But something inside me shifted a few years ago and I find my experience of Advent to be akin to the sound of nails on a chalkboard. It puts me on edge. It disturbs me. The fact that I don’t like it is disappointing, and frustrating, and anxiety-provoking. I look at the excitement all around me and I want no part of it.
I’ve spent many hours thinking about it and I’m beginning to understand that I find it so difficult because I’m no longer certain the waiting is worth it. In church I watch candles being lit in an inexorable march toward brightness, promising that darkness will be made light and night turned into day. But, in my own faith life, I am confronted with what often feels like an endless night.
Waiting was once a source of joy, knowing that God’s will is always unfolding, that God’s kingdom is always becoming. But, more and more, I find myself wondering what I’m doing here at all. The certainty I’ve lost seems all the more painful in this season dedicated to waiting, to giving over control, to the profound mystery of what is to come. Without trust in God, the very act of waiting seems both too fragile and too dense to bear.
I find myself turning toward the first stories of waiting for Jesus. I imagine Mary and Joseph, and what it must have felt like to be waiting for this child. The profound uncertainty of what their lives would be like as parents, Mary’s fear of the pain of labour, Joseph’s uncertainty about being able to love this child, the complete perplexity that comes over everyone holding an infant in their arms and knowing themselves to be completely, totally responsible for that life. It is profoundly human to be uncertain, just as it is deeply human to give over all of your love regardless of your doubt.
I am reminded of just how surprising God can be. In giving the world a saviour God sends us a baby who cries, and poops, and get fevers for no apparent reason, and spills his milk, and pees as soon as you change him; whose smile makes your heart full to bursting, and who occasionally sounds like a pterodactyl. Regardless of how prepared you are, and how ready, there comes a time when you’ve tried everything you know how to do and he just won’t stop crying.
Advent hasn’t been transformed into a lovely time of rainbow unicorns and spiritual fecundity for me. I still find myself weighed down by doubt and sorrow and a deep questioning of God, the church, and myself. But I do find a quiet joy in knowing that, as I live with these feelings day by day, they are preparing me for the moment where I find myself having tried everything – the moment where I am called upon to step away from all that I know, and say, I wonder what would happen if I did this?