The interesting thing about the season of advent is that it is a time for both waiting and preparing. If that sounds paradoxical, it should. Waiting is a passive verb, whereas preparing is an active one. And yet we are called to do both in the same four weeks. When we wait, we spend time reflecting on both the present and the future. We are certainly excited and hopeful about what is to come, but we don’t know exactly what this future is going to look like. So we are encouraged to slow down, breathe, and contemplate how this new life is going change our own lives. On the other hand, we are also called during this time to take active steps in preparation for this big change that is coming. What do these active steps entail? That depends on what we expect is going to change. Or, if we don’t know how things are going to change, it may also include the active discernment around what the change will be. Entering into the season of advent means entering into this balancing act between waiting and preparing.
This advent balancing act applies to all areas of life. In fact, this internship year at the Jesuit Spiritual Center is like my own personal advent. I am practicing the art of waiting when I enter into the work of retreat ministry. Part of my waiting includes helping to facilitate retreats for junior high and high school kids, practicing the drums, helping the kitchen staff serve meals, and writing, filming, and editing virtual retreat content. I am also actively waiting when I spend time in prayer, praying with the experiences I am having in ministry, praying with the spiritual exercises, and praying with my community. When I go for a walk on the grounds of the retreat center, spend time talking with friends and family, and curl up with a blanket, pillow, and a good book, I am practicing what it means to wait. I succeed at this call to wait when I am present to the moment at hand and aware of God’s presence in that moment.
At the same time, I am called to balance this life of waiting with a life if preparing. This internship will last only 10 months. Then what? I can’t wait until the end of May to think about where I will be the first week in June. I need to start discerning that now. Should I go to graduate school? When in that application due? Should I go back to religious life? What are the requirements for entrance? Should I interview for a second internship year here at the Jesuit Spiritual Center? By when would that decision need to be made? I practice the art of preparing when I meet with my mentor to discuss where I feel called to be next year, when I research graduate schools and their degree programs, when I meet with various sisters to learn more about the charism and life of their congregations. I am preparing when I fill out applications for schools, find out what steps I need to take in order to be accepted into religious life, and talk with my boss about what I need to do in order to extend this internship for a second year.
At the end of this internship year, something is going to change. I will have had to make a decision, and then I will live into that decision. Similarly, at the end of the season of advent, we celebrate that day when humanity was changed by the birth of a child. Beginning on Christmas day, something in our lives should change. If nothing changes, it could be that we didn’t fully enter into advent. We may have waited ok, but did we prepare? Christmas is not just a celebration of the past, but a catalyst for the future. What does celebrating the birth of Jesus mean to us if it doesn’t affect how we live our lives?