on belonging


Today is the fourth day of Advent.

This is my favorite time of year -- not because it’s Christmas, exactly...I do love Christmas, and without it, Advent would certainly not be the same.

The reason I love Advent so much is that it is all about waiting expectantly; hoping in the coming of a savior.  The goal of Advent is to be still, rather than to do.  Perhaps one of the reasons I love it so much is that I am very prone to doing, and not being, and it helps me to know that this is a time for collective stillness; that I am not going it alone but have the company of my brothers and sisters across the globe to sit in stillness + solidarity with.

As I write this and reflect on my behavior in the Advent season, I realize, it is not saturated in stillness.  It is still filled with things that I am doing.  I’m trying to read all the advent devotionals, stay up on all the advent calendar and candle-lighting activites, go to all of the advent gatherings.  The Holy Spirit is gentle in correction...I yet have not learned what it is to be still.

Will I ever learn?

This summer was a season that I felt drawn toward stillness as well, you may remember -- I wrote a lot about it at the time.  It was a struggle, because I knew that it was the greatest opportunity available to me then, as it is now, and yet is the hardest to enter into.  Notice that I say opportunity, not obligation...the Lord does not require me or any of us to spend time with him.  He is of course jealous for our time and affection, but he does not demand it.  He is not chiefly angry with us, despite the oft-reinforced misconception.  On the contrary...he exhibits an ocean of grace toward me alone, and I am only one of his children.

The question is -- will you receive it?  Will you accept this grace, as a gift, cherishing it for the priceless treasure that it is (because though it is freely given, it was bought at an unspeakable price)?  Will I?  Will you?  It is an invitation, open forever, renewable each day, each moment.  How will I receive this invitation today, to walk toward God, and not around him or away from him?

I don’t always know the answer.  The answer lies in a subdued will...not something particularly easy for me.  This is why I have such a strong need to surround myself with reminders of his beauty -- because I constantly forget that my own natural agenda of belonging to myself, when actualize, pales in comparison to the opportunity to belong to him.

When I belong to myself, all things are shrouded in anxious concern.  When I belong to myself, nothing ever gets done fast enough or well enough.  When I belong to myself, all things appear to be a detour, a roadblock, an ultimate opposition to the goal, the goal which can only be described as a vague satisfaction with my days and what I have been able to accomplish, how I have been useful.  When I belong to myself, that goal cannot be made clear, and to try is more unsettling than to bore through, grasping for the goal, keeping myself in ignorance as to what it actually is.

It is a cycle...a vortex.  A vacuum.  And I go there, willingly, all because I perceive that I have control and that control is what I want.  I follow this dark circle until I grow so tired (because there is no rest there, as you can imagine) until I realize what I am doing, and one of two things happen.

The first possibility is that I grow defensive and stubborn.  This happens in an instant; I see that I have persisted in my own way and I am determined either that it is better, or that if I can just finish this one thing then all will be well.

The second option is to admit how tired I am.  To acknowledge my need for rest.  To see that my goal is too fuzzy to pursue, that my end is nowhere in sight.  That I am sad of being alone, and that it would be far better to belong to someone else who could shepherd me and save me from myself.  And then, eventually, I remember the invitation...all that he wants to give me.  I remember what it is like to belong to him.

When I belong to him, I can make mistakes and it will still be okay.  When I belong to him, I can believe that I am useful simply because I trust that he has assigned me purposeful things that he plans to help me execute, at a pace that he sets forth.  When I belong to him, I am certain that nothing is a detour, or a roadblock.  It is all a part of the shaping process he has me in, one where he is beside me always.  When I belong to him, I find rest.  And I am free.

Free from fear, free from shame.  Freed from my own darkness, into his light.

It’s really incredibly simple: He is the gift.  The complexity, the lifelong work, is learning how to receive such a gift.

...here are some words from Dietrich Bonhoeffer; a reflection for us all to find ourselves belonging to him.

"Look up, you whose gaze is fixed on this earth,

who are spellbound by the little events and changes on the face of the earth.  

Look up, you who have turned away from heaven disappointed.  

Look up, you whose eyes are heavy with tears

and who are heavy and who are crying...

Look up, you who, burdened with guilt, cannot lift your eyes.  

Look up, your redemption is drawing near.

Something from what you see daily will happen.  

Just be aware, be watchful, wait just another short moment.  

Wait and something quite new will break over you:

God will come."

Learning to belong is the same as learning to look up -- and keep looking up.  This is what Advent is for, and it is for all.