I don’t like to admit it, but I’m a bah-humbug kind of gal. The weeks prior to Christmas just seem like so much work. Perhaps that’s because they are. Of course, many people relish the labor of tree-decorating, card-writing, present-purchasing, and gift-wrapping, but I feel tired just thinking about it.
But when I let go of all but the most minimal, compulsory tree-decorating, card-writing, present-purchasing, and gift-wrapping, I feel like I’m being a lazy stick-in-the-mud. Perhaps that’s because I am.
And good God, the expense! How did we ever let ourselves get tricked into thinking that the best way to mark the birth of Jesus is to buy stuff? That and the whole fascination with fruitcake have to be marks in the negative column when the anthropologists of the distant future judge humans today for their logical reasoning abilities.
A Different ADVENT-ure
But Advent? Now, that’s a season that I, even in my lazy stick-in-the-muddiness, can get excited about. At least, it is when Advent is taken on its own merits and not misunderstood as some sort of Pre-Christmas Prelude.
This week I read a fascinating review of Septology, a series of seven novels by Jon Fosse, the winner of this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature. Christopher Beha, who published the review in the New York Times, was drawn to Fosse because they each got married, stopped drinking, and became Catholic ten years prior. Beha compares the spirituality of the main character with his own. He admires the protagonist for his devotion to prayer and contemplation without the usual trappings of “public religious performance.”
Beha writes that the main character “describes his ‘deepest truest prayers’ as those moments when he’s ‘sitting and staring into empty nothingness, and becoming empty.’ Above all, he searches in his prayers for ‘silence and humility.’”
Could my self-judgement as a lazy stick-in-the-mud be a bit too harsh? Is it possible that at this time of the year, my soul longs for the bread of silence and the wine of humility? Perhaps I could get unstuck from the mud of pre-Christmas craziness by carving out more time and space in my life for stillness.
This review reminded me of something else I read this week, a Taoist fable in The Blessings of Imperfection by G. Peter Fleck:
A carpenter and his apprentice were walking together through a large forest. And when they came across a tall, huge, gnarled, old, beautiful oak tree, the carpenter asked his apprentice: “Do you know why this tree is so tall, so huge, so gnarled, so old and beautiful?” The apprentice looked at his master and said: “No… why?” “Well,” the carpenter said, “because it is useless. If it had been useful, it would have been cut long ago and made into tables and chairs, but because it is useless, it could grow so tall and so beautiful that you can sit in its shade and relax.”
Advent calls us to do nothing and be useless. But of course, in many ways, that’s a tall order. It’s in our uselessness that we allow mystery to do something useful inside us. In his review, Beha writes, “I sometimes think that the modern world’s true cultural divide is not between believers and unbelievers but between those who think life is a puzzle that is capable of being solved and those who believe it’s a mystery that ought to be approached by way of silence and humility.”
This Advent, I will not do a lot of tree-decorating, card-writing, present-purchasing, and gift-wrapping. Instead, I hope to be a good kind of lazy, stick in the mud. I long to be useless in the most useful way of all.