Sunday, December 1, 2013

2013.12.01 Wait-and-See Advent

Outside the church we are already commercially and spiritually focused on Christmas and its trappings. In this age of instant everything many of us are conditioned NOT to wait.  I get cross with my computer if it doesn’t pop into action at my touch. I can’t wait.

The comic strip, “Heart of the City,” features a kicky little girl who protests to a local store owner about Christmas paraphernalia on display even before Thanksgiving arrives. Heart carries placards, bravely pickets the store, and argues with its owner. She loses the battle to commerce, but wins the war. Few miss the point:

In our haste to get to the “good part” are we not missing the “best part?”

I remember my anticipation as a child. The baited breath suspense of Advent was as full of new life as Nativity. Waiting built up the Spirit, made Santa Claus, also Jesus,  all the more wondrous, and gifts all the more delightful when they came, even if they weren’t exactly what we wanted. 

Advent was the best part simply because as its days grew shorter and darker the world around lit up. Both darkness and light happened simultaneously. At the same time!  It made my eyes pop with awe.  I awaited the dark with as much eagerness as I did the light.

I feel it as an adult too. I don’t complain when days get dark early, unless it’s just to join the chorus of grumbling I hear all around me. But deep inside me I feel oddly comforted when we pull shades before 5 pm and turn on lights, maybe slide the thermostat up a tiny bit.  It’s cozy; it’s hearth; it’s holing in for the evening.

Advent is the interior season, the safe-and-warm-inside season— prayer, softness, dim glow, the color purple-blue, quiet womb, wait 'n see.

Yet in Advent I always think more about homeless people in this season. I don’t wait for Christmas to see Jesus in church pageants.  I see christs on the streets slumped against buildings, huddled in blankets, asleep on benches, sometimes mumbling thank you.  I can’t make them cozy or warm.

As a young child in the city I’d beg my mother for a nickel to throw in a cup or the bucket of a bell ringer.  Clink!  I’d ask: Why are they sleeping? It’s too cold to sleep outside. Don’t they have beds?  My questions were childish—or were they?  I couldn’t make them cozy and warm.

The Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts has an active street ministry and employs a street priest to celebrate Sunday Eucharist outside on Boston Common and organize pastoral care. This church is called Common Cathedral. Some of my church “taxes”go to the diocese to support this ministry. 

I’ve visited this outside cathedral  and once gave my scarf to a man who looked cold. I admit I felt awkward, guilty, not wanting to be perceived as Lady Bountiful—but also a little scared. I wish I could be brave and easy like street priests, lay and ordained, but I’m not. I wish I could be more externalized, more of an activist, but I’m an indoor priest. I wait, watch and hope with every “advent” bone in my body, through prayer and Christ’s Eucharist meal, that others with more vocational will and guts will take such generosity outside with them. 

There is hope. I just read (Boston Globe 11/29/13) about blanket ministry, administered in part by our Cathedral Church of St. Paul but the brainchild of Boston’s homeless community.  Some foolish christ asked them what they needed. Blankets, they said!! The blankets are folded to the size of a deck of playing cards in a small pouch. They are silver Mylar space blankets—extremely lightweight and very warm, the kind worn by astronauts and marathoners after a race. Inexpensive too!

You need something warm while you wait outside for a home inside.

The precious blankets are not distributed from shelters or agencies but by volunteers who have been homeless on and off themselves. Over 8000 blankets have been purchased and sent to St. Paul’s. The homeless christ-priests recognize their own on the streets, pull a small blanket pouch out of their backpack, and hand it out—sort of like Eucharist, a tiny wafer on the tongue or in the hand, blessed, as are the blanket pouches, and distributed. Neither solves life’s many problems nor fills an empty belly, but each helps. Oh, each helps as we wait.

To me the whole city world begins, metaphorically, to look eucharistic, open-hearted giving and receiving —wafers inside, blankets outside—as we wait together, but not precisely for Christ for christ is here in the heart of the city.