The Road Goes Ever On and On

“The Road Goes Ever On and On,” or so sings Bilbo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings.

Merry Christmas, everyone. Advent is over. And as is typical for someone working in retail — even monastic retail (!) — for me it was a blur. It was a time of stolen moments of rest and reflection, rather than a truly immersed season of waiting. I leave Advent 2009 behind, still waiting, still waiting for the day, most likely after I retire, when the demands of my work will not compete with the call of the liturgical season.

I know I am not alone in this paradoxical place of waiting for the season of waiting. The key I took from this year’s Advent is my insight that Benedict’s call for monks (and, by extension, monastic lay associates like myself) to live “a continual Lent” can, it seems to me, be expanded to include “a continual Advent.” For aren’t we always in a place of waiting? We wait in line at the Post Office. We wait for traffic to clear up. We wait for a head cold to run its course so we can return to work. We wait for warm weather, and then we wait for cool weather. And on and on it goes.

Perhaps the real message of Advent lies in the invitation to celebrate all those times of waiting. To look for the hidden presence of God in all of our waitings, so that the line at the Post Office is no longer quite so annoying, or the unpleasant weather can be its own source of grace and wonder, enabling us to live in the present moment rather than just waiting our lives away. In other words, waiting is always something that happens in the present, in relation to something anticipated in the future. A prisoner waits for parole. A young lover waits to hear from his or her beloved. An elderly man like my father waits to die, not with morbidity or desperation, but with a serenity and placidity that I find both amazing and  inspiring. Advent, I believe, teaches us to celebrate the gift of the present in the waiting-for-the-future. It doesn’t take away the power and the promise that the future holds. But it reminds us that, in a very real way, the present is all we have. We are always impoverished, and a sign of our poverty is our lack of ownership of either the past or the future. And of course, there is profound grace in this.

So while I am waiting for the Advent when I no longer have to work long hours and weekends, I am invited to celebrate each messy imperfect Advent that I am given. But not now. Now I am invited to celebrate the messy imperfect Christmas season that is now upon us.

And so are you.

Happy Christmas, and thanks for reading.

Catholic Meditation and Contemplative Prayer: What's the Difference?
Preliminary Practices for Christian Contemplatives
Emptiness and Non-Attachment
Pentecost and Ecstasy
About Carl McColman

Author of Befriending Silence, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.

  • Darrell Grizzle

    If you go hiking with me, you’ll get to hear me recite “The Road Goes Ever On and On” in full. :o)

  • James

    Happy Christmas Carl! Thanks

  • jodiq

    Nice post Carl. Perpetual Lent, perpetual Advent, even perpetual Adoration…Jesus must smile….Merry Christmas!!

  • Fencing Bear

    Merry Christmas, Carl!

  • Heidi

    Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Yummy Yule and a Sassy Saturnalia! Practice teflon spirit! Love and light!

  • noel

    whatever is positive go with it
    carl happy christmas
    say more about lay monastics i am very interested
    also what divine office do you use
    for me it has to have the writings of the saints and dr and frs
    i find this a tough time to get through various reasons but mostly one find the secular christmas to be the one and only
    and if you retreat you are labelled
    same time not much if you cannot share and be positive noy only in one s own life but all around

  • Leslie

    For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and for ever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.

    Isaiah 9:6-7

    Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

    Merry Christmas dear friends!

  • Gary Snead

    Waiting-labeled time is discounted immediately to the go-on-by-so-I-do-what-I’ve-planned-time. How about here-I-am-now-and-Lord-willing-my-journey-takes-me-onward-time? My late wife used the time to pray for those around her who also were waiting, for herself, for me and the rest of our family, for what might come next, whatever she heard the Spirit lay on her heart. I have not yet learned to so consistently seize now for its own sake, for the sake of God’s glory.
    All the comments are a blessing to me.
    Merry Christmas to all, and to all a Good-filled and blessed New Year.

  • Carl McColman

    Gary: thanks, and Merry Christmas to you, too. 2009 was a year of many treasures for me, and one of the was re-connecting with you.

    Noel: to learn more about Lay Cistercians, visit and

  • Mark

    I’ve been enjoying your posts. An LJ friend pointed me in your direction.

    Regarding waiting for retirement to more fully engage in the monastic experience, you might find the following article insightful, especially the part about the role of money and modern day monasticism. Enjoy!

    Here is the link:

  • phil foster

    The waiting is the hardest part
    Every day see one more card
    You take it on faith, you take it to heart
    The waiting is the hardest part
    - Tom Petty

  • The Pollinatrix

    Hi Carl. I’ve been enjoying your posts for a while now. I think I found you when I was Googling “anam cara” while I was reading John O’Donohue’s book of the same name.

    I’m just now emerging from the Christmas mist and catching up on some blog-reading, so forgive the late comment on this, please. I just had to point out that I posted about the messiness of Christmas recently, too.

    I really like what you’re saying about waiting here. This is something I struggle with. I’m much more of a Mary than a Martha, and I often have a hard time with the mundane tasks of life like waiting in lines at places that don’t inspire me, or waiting in traffic, which feels like a waste of time. A blogger friend of mine brought this topic up recently and I’ve been contemplating it ever since.

    I think I will ponder and treasure in my heart your lines “We are always impoverished, and a sign of our poverty is our lack of ownership of either the past or the future. And of course, there is profound grace in this.” Maybe I’ll post it in my car to remind me when I’m stuck in traffic!