To Listen

“Advent: the time to listen for footsteps – you can’t hear footsteps when you’re running yourself.” Bill McKibben


Yesterday after church I was talking with Nate, my son, about doing some writing. He looked at me with his gentle face and big eyes and said, "Yea, you haven't made a story in quite a while, have you?"

It made me smile, the thought of making a story, almost like making a painting or making a table or even a pot of soup. Taking all of the interesting things I see around me and fashioning them into something, hopefully, beautiful: a story.

Mostly, lately, that's what I've been doing, like the squirrels: collecting observations and storing moments and nibbling on conversations. That's how is works with me. I scribble things in lots of different places, mostly on notebooks in the car. Writing ideas never come to me when I'm sitting at my computer. I need to be in motion, as if the words won't flow unless my body is moving. The changing nature of the landscape outside the car when I am driving somehow stirs all sorts of things up in my brain. Then one day I wake up and the story is ready to be made. It's there, at the very ends of my fingertips. I have never been the kind of disciplined writer who sits for a period of time each day, forcing myself to write. I write in much the same way I live: curious to see what's coming; uninterested in forcing the hand of what I believe to be lovely and mysterious creative forces in our lives. Like the baby inside my friend, Julianne's, belly, preparing to arrive any day now, the story will come when the story is ready.

Nate had a good point, though: I have not made a story in quite a while.

Yesterday was the first day of the Advent season. I love this time of year. I love the idea of the waiting, the anticipation. Of the quiet that is necessary in order to feel, to really feel, what's happening. The buzz of the season can be intoxicating, but quite often folks seem to drown in that vat of consumerism, of guilt over not doing enough or buying enough. We forget, don't we, that this is a holy season of light and new beginnings, and that it's not necessary to be footed in any particular theology to embrace that magic. 

"In Advent we receive four weeks to dwell on what God's vision might be for us and for those whose lives we touch. Four weeks to dwell on how the courage of expanding our imagination might feed into the growing kingdom of God," says Enuma Okoro, in her lovely book, Silence and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent. Certainly, if it bothers you, you can take the God talk out of that and simply think of this time of year in terms of stilling yourself, and wondering, in that quiet, what may be coming as we move toward the solstice and then into a new year. It's a time for letting old stuff go, taking stock and moving on so that there's room for important new things to grow. The world most sorely needs your gifts and "those whose lives we touch" are the most important things out there. 

Take it a step at a time. Collect small moments of quiet bliss. Build awareness around them when they're happening. On Saturday evening I drove through Stowe, which is a wonderland of snow and lights right now. I drove up, up to the mountain as darkness was falling. There I got to spend time with my friend, Polly, who was in town from Martha's Vineyard, dropping her son, Finn, at school. Polly, as always, was radiant. Being near her is a gift. She's always wearing great colors and textures and she smiles all the time. Her voice is deeply soothing and her wisdom unparalleled. Shortly before the gathering we were attending was winding down, I noticed her eyes getting a little teary. I don't really know what she was feeling, but I felt the bittersweetness of the moment, of the reality that we both had to move back into our lives, far away from one another. We had our blessing, though, our time together.

On Sunday morning I got to do one of my favorite things: read aloud the scripture passages during the service at our church here in Charlotte. My entire life I have been terrified of public speaking, of reading aloud. I avoided it like the plague, but somehow being in front of a packed church makes me feel content and very alive. Go figure.

There was a moment, during the reading, when I looked out and saw all the faces of all the people that filled all the pews in church. They were looking up toward me, listening to what I was reading. It occurred to me that mine was the only voice moving through the air in the church.

Everyone was quiet.