Little Doors (Advent for the Skeptical and Weary, Part 4)

Little Doors (Advent for the Skeptical and Weary, Part 4)


I’ve been using this Advent series to mull over some of my struggles with the season, which has made for some serious posts. Here, I talk about my petulant Christmas cards. Here, I talk about seasonal depression. Here, I question how we’re supposed to hope when we can’t even figure out what to hope for. So for a little levity, at this point I will insert a ridiculous intermission: Advent calendars.

I am not Catholic, but some of my friends are, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church seems as good a place as any to learn the origins of the liturgical season of Advent. All right, Catholics—hit it.

“When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church

Okay, good basic definition. So—just curious—as a parent, how am I supposed to impart a proper eschatological yearning to my children?

Well, duh. The Beano.



Or maybe Darth Maul.

darth maul advent


Or let’s just go with whiskey.


Truly, the end times may come with Darth Maul and crappy chocolate, and we may very well greet them with fear and whiskey.

Advent calendars will appear again in this post. But back to the question I was struggling with at the end of my last post:

How do I celebrate hope when I don’t know what I’m hoping for?

I’ve been reflecting on that question this past week.

Part of the reason I looked up the definition of Advent above is that every year, the season puzzles me. During Advent, it appears the church is waiting for Jesus’ birth. But the church also believes Jesus was already born. Approximately two millennia ago. So is this entire season a sort of grown-up make-believe, counting down to Christmas? And why?

This paper doll goes on my tree every year. She was a gift from Seiko Ikeda, an elderly Japanese woman who survived the bombing of Hiroshima and all her life has worked for peace.
This paper doll goes on my tree every year. She was a gift from Seiko Ikeda, an elderly Japanese woman who survived the bombing of Hiroshima and all her life has worked for peace.

It’s funny that after many years of hanging around in churches, only this week did I look up the orthodox answer above: that Advent historically commemorates not only the waiting for Christ’s birth, but his “second coming.”

Moment of honesty: This kind of language (“second coming”, “Christ’s return”) gives me the willies. I was raised in a totally secular, highly-suspicious-of-organized-religion family. In my early twenties, after a long period of searching and studying and prayer, I had an odd and overwhelming and beautiful experience at a church, and for a long period in my life, that church became a home to me. But I still have the cultural ears and eyes and the skepticism of an outsider. When I hear “second coming” or “Christ’s return” or “God’s kingdom coming,” I get images of the Left Behind series and Bible Belt threats of the rapture. The only emotion this creates in me is alienation.

So I employ a trick I’ve often used with religious concepts that disturb me or leave me cold: I try to translate them into more down-to-earth terms. I read the texts while asking myself this question:

Why would such-and-such a religious idea or thing
create more love in the world, or be of benefit to all people?

When I can think of it that way, I am able to drop my defenses and go on to consider it.

So when I hear the phrase “God’s kingdom,” I think:
1) Well…God is Love.
2) And kingdoms imply ruling.
I can understand “God’s kingdom,” then, as The way things are when Love rules.

“The way things are when Love rules” especially appeals to me in a year like this, when our country elected a president who has spoken disrespectfully of women, Black and brown people, Muslims, people with disabilities, and any number of people groups; who has spoken cavalierly of using nuclear weapons; who has shown no concern for the environment, and dismissed the science that urgently warns us to act; who claims he has “tremendous” wealth but little evidence that he’s ever used it to benefit the poor.

These things are the opposite of Love.

What would it look like, on the other hand, for Love to rule?

For war to end.
For the environment to be restored.
For social justice to be done.
For people who don’t have enough to finally enjoy plenty.
For no more abuse of the powerless by the powerful.
For our personal heartbreaks to be healed.
The inclusion of all peoples in all of these things.

This strikes me as something to hope for—and to spend our lives working for. When I read the writings of the prophets in the Hebrew Bible and the teachings of Jesus, I also see these specific things mentioned as part of God’s desires for the world. 

It always strikes me as strange—but exceedingly beautiful—that Jesus describes this better version of the world as a realm, a dimension, that is already very close at hand. As in: accessible to us.

the Advent calendar in our house, with its empty galvanized buckets

In other words, very much like an Advent calendar: just behind those little cardboard doors.

Sometimes these doors are opened for us, as pure gift, and we briefly glimpse something that feels transcendent and fearfully beautiful.

We also have the agency and ability to open those doors. We do it whenever we act in love.

That’s what I believe on my best days—that we have that ability.

Today, though, as I write this, I despair at the limits of my own power and energy. My conscience says You should be out there working for justice, but depression saps both mind and body, and I just used my last bit of willpower to cook dinner for my children. I don’t even have the energy left to cook for myself.

Love, though—I do have that.

Maybe, then, in a year when I am skeptical and weary, this is my Advent. To say to myself, and (quietly, in this humble space) to the world at large: I’m so sorry. This is a season of giving, and this year, I have so little to give. I burned myself out at a service-oriented job which barely covered the cost of childcare. I spend 40 minutes a day holding my asthmatic two-year-old on my lap, coaxing him to keep a nebulizer mask on his face, just so he can breathe. It’s a season meant for hope, but this 2016 election has left me with an unshakeable sense of foreboding.

And yet: once upon a time, I thought a lightbox wouldn’t work, and it did. My Christmas cards made fun of Christmas cards; but at least they were true. I’ve been burnt out before; I’ve recovered before; I may do it again. And this year, if I can’t do anything else, maybe I can do this: practice seeing the world as an Advent calendar.

There must be places, right this moment, where Love is breaking open something new.

There must be a door around here somewhere.

With love,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *