Where are those candles anyway?

Advent, Week 1: Hope

Thomas Merton called the world, “a demented inn,” once, being very clear that people generally have no room. The transformation arrives anyway, uninvited.

This is one of the reasons to notice Advent. It’s a moment to stop and rest amid a season of busyness, but also a kind of alarm going off amid the routine and the sustained effort.

“Pay attention,” Advent says, “otherwise, you might miss it.”

You might miss the excitement of children who have waited months for this holiday. You might miss the generosity of people who create, both treats and decorations, specifically because they want to share with you. You might miss the anticipation of people who experience the story of the birth of Jesus as a combination of inspiration, aspiration, and challenge.

If you’re at my house, though, I might rope you into helping look for candles. The candles of Advent are a symbol of counting down, maybe a little like those calendars with little doors and pieces of chocolate. The candles are packed away somewhere.

The days still tick away, candles or no. The darkness grows shorter, even when I can’t find the physical representation of that. I know that this is true, and this truth brings me a kind of hope that runs beneath and between and among the things and people and events around me.

Not too long ago, I was in a scalding accident. I lost a lot of the skin on the back of my body to burns. Of course, the pain was intense.

One day, I asked my nurse, “Do people actually recover from this?”

She made a funny face, as if to tell me that my question was ludicrous. Then, she said, “Of course. Absolutely. Yes.”

There is a lot of challenge to recuperating: pain, itching, scars, growing new skin. It turns out, though, that the nurse was right. All the time, my skin works at repairing and restoring itself. While I sleep, while I eat, while I wait for pain and itching to pass.

One of the things that Advent reminds me, and could potentially remind you, is that it isn’t just hope that runs beneath and within our lives. The transformation is also coming. We enrich our lives when we pause to recognize what has remained uninvited in our lives and open doors to it.

Can’t find the candles? Not feeling sparkly or fancy? No problem.

Arrive at the process of Advent. Awake to its hidden treasures, the gifts that people offer you, whether material or gifts of time and presence. Open the door to however it is that you find yourself. Are you tired? Are you worried? It’s understandable.

The good news is that transformation is coming. Can you let it in? It may be true that transformation that you can’t predict or control is more unsettling than comforting. At the same time, we are in this time of anticipation together. Together, we can maximize our connection, and even our joy in times of complexity.

It’s okay if we can’t find the candles. The transformation, the light, is coming. We will encounter it together.