Madeleine L’Engle’s The Irrational Season is sitting beside me on the desk. I’ve just finished sewing up some quilted coasters, a task that was delayed because I ran out of thread and needed to make my way to Jo Anne for some more. It has come to my attention that it is the first Sunday of Advent. I suppose I would have known that sooner if I had gone to church this morning, but Isaiah and I are having to adjust our schedules lately and a few things have gotten shuffled around. Like sleep.
Half spent was the night.
An annunciation! Oh yes, this! The Christ child! I remember now! He’s coming! He’s come? Where is he now?
In Washington? In Sheol? At the right hand of the Father? In Chicago, with me?
I’ve been thinking of Mary. I learn more about her all the time as I seep into my womanhood, as I shuffle, slumpingly, toward Bethlehem myself. Mary, most revered, most confused, most misunderstood. Mary, with only one task to do. Mary, so inflated, so remembered, full of grace, maybe, maybe. Mary, blue. Always in blue. Mary, interrupted. Mary, iconned, inflated. Mary, woman of a million faces, art’s darling, beautifully stretched. Mary, mother. Mary.
None of us know her at all.
I just think about how she held him when he was a baby. Quiet, the simplest thing in the world. No queen of heaven, not yet. Just a mother. He was a baby. Not a super baby, a human baby. She cuddled him, she loved him when he couldn’t do anything at all, when he was a ball of pudge, when he cooed and his eyes darted about and he didn’t know how to smile yet. Hers was the first face he saw on earth, I’m sure. For a little while, at least, he belonged to her. How did that feel? I want to know how that feels.
I don’t know what my place is, especially now in this world of harshness. I wish I had a job to do, some task for the Christ child. I’m no Mary, no chosen one. I’m no shepherd even, with an unmissable invitation to come to the manger. No, I’m a townsperson, asleep in my bed, eyes shut tight in the face of a blinding star and angel song. Over and over I wonder about angels, but what if they’ve danced above me while I was staring at Instagram? What if I’ve missed them?
Or what if I have no job to do at all? What if no angel is coming for me?
It would have been different, I guess, if Mary had expected an angel to come, if she knew what was happening before it happened. That would have been weird. That would have messed all of it up, probably. She wasn’t looking and it happened. She just listened and knew that she couldn’t say no. Knew that the world was at a tipping point, that angels don’t just touch down every day. That the only choice was to keep going, to lose her whole life but keep walking, to give up everything she thought the world was about for a baby. Amazing how often that happens to people. Amazing how hard it is to do. Amazing how that’s how much and how little God asks of us. Just everything. Just everything.
It’s harder without an angel song, that’s all. It’s harder to sing Magnificat without the impetus, without the arrival of a visitor, with no annunciation. I try to write poems, but they don’t flow. I try to sing praises, say yes to things, but no one has asked me. I try to get there, to suspend my disbelief, to let the beauty of the hymns, the gorgeousness of this faith remind me that all this swirling beauty can’t be for nothing, that I do carry it around within, that none of this is for nothing. I know it’s not nothing, I do.
I’m just angry. I’m confused. I need an angel, something. Is it crazy to want to be invited to the real event? Right into the center of it, to God’s own heart, to the gold shiny clearness of it? Is it stupid of me to even say these things when I know the paradox of everything I’m saying, when my brain keeps reminding me that, of course, I’ve been invited already? Is it wrong for me to want to be invited bigger? Is it wrong of me to feel jaded by the whole thing of it right now, the outskirts we live in, the American church and its bad recent choices? The things I don’t wish to be associated with, the recklessness, the misunderstanding? I want to be invited, by an angel or some such grandness, to something more beautiful, something more something, the ground shining like sapphires, because following the ragtag parade of modern evangelicalism is exhausting and also often underwhelming.
But it seems I’ve already been invited to all that there is to be invited to. What’s happening right now is what there is. I live in America. We, somehow, are the church, the president is the president, and we work with what we’ve got. We buy the communion wine, we bake bread, try to be honest, we hope for the best. I’m not going to stop, no, because abandoning the church feels like the absolute worst thing to do at such a time as this, but I’ll just admit that I’m tired and I don’t know who to listen to. I’ll admit that I find it hard to even confess my faith right now, that I feel that old tug of shameful embarrassment in the face of all that has happened, the feeling we all know too well but pretend we don’t. I’ll admit that I’m thinking through the friends and strangers, both, that may read this and think, “Oh. I see. That’s what you think.”
So, I’ll be honest. I’m not standing in disbelief or doubt, though I’ve stood there before. No, right now I’m standing in disappointment.
I feel like none of us know anything at all, that we never have. Not me, not anyone. I wish we all admitted that more.
So I’ll sit with Madeleine L’Engle and read her words about Advent because I do like to listen to her. Her stirrings, her feelings of being poked and prodded and reminded through the relentless rhythm of the church calendar like me. This year, Christmas feels too early. I’m ready for the sweets and the lights and the fun and the family, but I’m not sure that I’m ready to carry the weight of the Christ child, imagining my way through, showing up even though, no, I don’t feel invited. I’m not sure that I’m ready to walk the long and windy road to Bethlehem with other disappointing pilgrims, doing it all again because December has returned. I’m not sure that I’m ready to wait all month long with no angel song, no star, no bright, earth-shaking reminder that he’s coming, he came. I’m not sure that I’m ready, but I’ll do it all just the same. Because that’s the thing with Advent, with babies. You can’t ignore them. They’re too luminous.