After waking early, dressing ourselves, and gathering all the things needed for a day trip with a toddler, we drove through the pouring rain two hours eastward. We arrived at our destination exactly at the time we were supposed to be seated and ready to worship. But we were still looking for parking, and then after finding it, and loading our arms with child and things and coats and umbrellas, we walked through the rain and into the church. We found a pew in the back next to friends, shuffled in, and laid our burdens down. Still, I did not look up. I attended to my son, who had just spent two hours in the car and was quite wiggly. I sorted his books and things and my things: coat, scarf, clothing, hair. And then, having settled everything possible, I finally looked up.
When I looked up, I saw this, and more beauty besides. It took my breath away, and then I smelled the incense, as if for the first time. I let my gaze wander to the stained glass and Stations of the Cross, as I listened to the beautiful prayers being sung around me. And then I took note of my neighbors, each quietly, reverently participating in worship.
What does it take to get us to look up? How often am I so taken in by what’s just beyond my nose that I fail to see the beauty laid out as a gift before me? I fail to see my neighbor sitting right next to me, and I fail to see God, present with me always.
Advent can quickly become a season just like any other—perhaps busier! We are people who like to do things, so when a season like Advent rolls around, we are looking for “good” things to do. It’s tempting to overcommit to devotionals and books and Advent calendars and activities, etc., etc., etc…(not to mention the shopping, decorating, and partying!) These things are not bad, but if they cause you to miss out on being present in your life, or make you so busy that you don’t notice God’s presence with you in the everyday, mundane things, they are not fruitful.
The most important thing, in my opinion, is to just be attentive. Attend to God’s presence. Attend to your family and friends. Attend to the goodness that is present in your life. And attend to your neighbor: What are their needs? Where can you help? If all you can commit to do this year is to try to pay attention, it’s a good place to begin.
So, settle yourself. Put your burdens down. Create a cozy spot, light a candle, do what you need to do, and then... look up. Look at his beautiful face—the only thing you need to do.
And if your family has yet to make any traditions, and you’re looking for some, I can certainly point you in the right direction! Jess and I recorded an episode on the Tend Podcast recently about this topic, and I am recording a short series of episodes that are each an opportunity to enter into the season in a contemplative way.
Peace be with you.
What are you hoping for the advent season? What would you like to see when you look up?