Wednesday, December 1, 2010

the alpha and omega

this week, as our church staff sat down together for morning prayer, one of the other staff members mentioned how satisfying it was to begin on page one. if you've ever used the book of common prayer, you'll know that the scriptures with which morning prayer open are determined by the season; and if you pay attention to the liturgical calendar, you'll know that advent is the beginning of the year. thus the opening scriptures for advent are on the first page of the morning prayer rite.

i had just been thinking the same thing when the other staff member mentioned his appreciation for starting on page one. i had chalked my page-one satisfaction up to my ocd-ish need to have things complete, start to finish, and added it to my list of obsessions with patterns; my absolute inability to leave a book unfinished, even a bad one; and my refusal to start watching a movie from anywhere but the beginning, even one i've seen before. but i got to thinking, of course, about advent being the start of the year.

i have heard one friend of mine quote another mutual friend (though i've never heard him say it directly) as having said in defense of liturgy that if the church doesn't tell us what time it is, the world will. (having acquired this brilliant quotation by hearsay, i'll feel free to interpret it at will.) if the church doesn't tell us that christmas comes at the end of four weeks of waiting, the world will tell us it begins on halloween. if the church doesn't tell us that easter comes only after long weeks of penitence and self-examination, the world will send us bunnies and colorful eggs right on the heels of our valentines.

but do i really think of advent as the start of the year?

for me, advent feels more like it's about endings than beginnings. this next couple of weeks is a time of waiting to recognize for a second year the anniversary of eliza's death, this year smack on gaudete sunday (more on that here). then i wait a couple more weeks for yet another christmas when i won't hang her stocking along with the rest of ours (or will i? i can't remember what i decided last year). then after christmas, i'm yet again waiting, this time for eliza's birthday, just a few short weeks after epiphany.

that seems all wrong. i'm supposed to start the year in this waiting anticipating beginnings, not dwelling on endings. or am i?

the thing is that beginnings and endings don't need to be all that different after all. (here i'm tempted to bust into singing "the circle of life." but of course i won't.) because what is the point of an ending but to begin something new? of course, the prime example here for me is the knowledge that the end of eliza's broken, painful, earthly life was the beginning of her eternal, heavenly, whole one. the advent of her real life, so to speak. then there's the whole seed analogy--that something has to die in order for something new to grow--repeated in too many trite sympathy expressions for me to bear repeating it. but how is it for me that this season of waiting to remember endings can be about starting the year afresh?

because in my pain, which i will not deny at this time of year any more than any other, i can be brought to my knees afresh. i can bathe in fresh gratitude for the gift that is christmas--and the many, many other gifts in my life for which i forget to be thankful. i can start over precisely because of my brokenness and suffering, because i've already been driven to my knees in my wrestling with endings. what better place to start the year than on my knees, keenly aware of my need for what is offered to me anew yet again?

(and here i'll rejoice in living in the south where i can avoid yet another requisite trite image of a world that is a clean slate, bathed in snow just in time for starting over at christmas. but do with that what you will.)

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