Fr. Edward Hays described Advent's waiting prayers as searchlights that comb the starry winter skies. Advent's "a lifelong profession of patient longing, unless I know, with all my heart, that Emmanuel not only comes down but also comes forth and emerges." Benedictine sister Macrina Wiederkehr writes, "God can never be born enough." We let another Advent take root in our hearts, reveal things and deepen us. Like a hush, it slips into the empty, waiting corners that edge the hustle and bustle. It's a knowing, familiar presence that goes with us wherever we go, all our lives.
Sometimes that hush comes to us gently. Other times it emerges through suffering, stress and anxiety. I think the Advent hush of waiting is a spiritual phenomenon that evolves over our whole lifetimes, unique for each of us and connected to our past, present and future. My earliest childhood memory of this hush comes from a Christmas when I was just 6 years old. That year I thought Christmas would never come, as I gazed spellbound for hours at our little Christmas tree sitting on the desk. The lights mesmerized me and the small cache of presents under it with my name on them infatuated me. Following a Norwegian feast of lutefisk and meatballs at my Grandma's big white farmhouse next door to our little house, I was keyed up and anxious to rush back home to finally open the presents. I dashed out from Grandma's door, intending to race the small distance home. With a shock, I was blasted by frigid winter air that nearly knocked me off my feet.
I felt strong arms reach for me, as my dad scooped me up. The night was black and starless and I remember the sound of the biting wind whooshing in the thick grove that surrounded our farm on three sides like a hand cradling a hot cup of coffee. Driven snow flew against our faces like static electricity. The sting of the subzero cold against my bare legs and feet clad in ankle socks and patent leather shoes was chilling. But what I remember most is how safe, sheltered and hushed I felt in my dad's arms, the itchy feel of his wool jacket, the closeness of his familiar, pleasant, slightly scratchy face--and the roar of the wind overhead--its sound reminiscent of an ocean in the sky.
Through the years, I've had many encounters with the hush. Once an elderly friend of mine was dying of bone cancer. It was time to prepare for his final Advent on earth, just weeks before Christmas. He was in a hospital far away, had asked for me and I was not able to travel to be with him, which was heartbreaking. Writing letters was the way he and I communicated, and I poured out my feelings to him in a final letter.
I wrote: "The Christmas hush is nearly here. Let it come to you in your heart this year. Let it settle softly into your soul. I know it can happen and that you can feel it. Think about gentle snow falling upon you, cooling your fever and covering you like a blanket of protection. Let the spirit of Advent take you back to your beloved village. Imagine your wife cooking oyster stew upstairs and the tendrils of the fragrance filling your store below. Imagine yourself standing at the open door, just like you've told me, gazing out into the holy night of Christmas, with the hush dropping like that mantle we spoke about. Imagine the snowy, soundless whisper of cars going by, on their way to Mass up the street. Feel the peace in your heart and the sacred sense of God filling you, coming to enfold you. Let the Christmas hush become an ocean--surrounding you and carrying all your worries away, bringing you childlike trust and faith as its Christmas gifts."
The momentum of Advent in our hearts is a lifelong process. There comes a time when all the earnest waiting and preparing for Emmanuel to be born anew in us each Christmas ends. With joy, we discover that God has been celebrating God's own Advent all this time--waiting with hushed expectation and preparing for us to be born into that eternal heart of hearts.