Advent once imagined a season of hope.
Advent once foreshadowed a season in which we replace the tragedy of today with the hope of the Day, yet to come.
Advent once envisioned a season in which holy light celebrated the declension of all that’s dark.
Advent – at one time – celebrated the cessation and fulfillment of all desire!
While the Advent season has become – for many today – a season as haunting as it is holy, for most it’s neither haunting nor holy. We are blissfully unaware of the holiness or grandeur that once marked this season of waiting and watching. Indeed, most of us live somewhere in between; impervious to the joys afforded and calloused to the pains exploited by the Advent season.
It seems these days that we are hell-bent on sacrificing the holy and suppressing the haunting.
It’s the type of thing – the haunting holiness we sacrifice and suppress – good novels explore and – in some cases – exploit. I’ve always been a sucker for a good novel. Particularly one excavating the clay of human relationship and the cultures they shape.
Perhaps my weakness for novels accounts for the reason I stumbled upon Pat Conroy as a teenager. As a young son of South Carolina who had – for my entire life – looked forward to one day attending the Citadel, it seemed right that I should read The Lords of Discipline.
After reading Conroy’s truculent tale, I chose to attend school elsewhere.
My favorite of Conroy’s novels is The Prince of Tides. A book exploring the sadness, sorrow, and celebration of what Flannery O’conner once called the Christ-Haunted South. It’s a tragic story. Much like real life, it’s also full of beauty. Conroy captures a sense of the haunting and holiness of life; from its simplicity to splendor!
My favorite section of the novel – a place of beauty held close – is a portion where the children are sitting with their mother at the end of a dock watching the sunset. As the sun melts into the sea, one of the children (I think Savannah – in my mind the most conflicted) blurts out in robust joy, “Do it again, Mommy. Do it again!” I remember how I too wanted mommy to ‘do it again.’
This singular phrase captures the heartbeat of human desire: the desire for beauty, goodness, and glory – the haunting holiness – to repeat itself again and again!
We experience little in the way of beauty these days. I mean the deep, lasting beauty that defies our attempts at description. That beauty that meets us at the very place our language fails us. That beauty that leaves us longing in a sigh for more to come.
That beauty, in short, that is both as haunting as it is holy.
In many ways the season of Advent – in my mind – is the season ripe for the experience and taste of such beauty. A season in which we say, “Daddy, do it again. Do it again!”
A word about the word daddy. For some, the word daddy is a soft word: the sappy babbling of toddlers stammering across syllables en route to a nonsensical but devastatingly cute phrase. In my mind daddy is a word of weight that communicates a relationship of powerful, dependable and unending trust! I use the term in that manner. I love the way James Bryan Smith frames the term in The Good and Beautiful God:
“God as Abba. In the garden of Gethsemane, during his final hours before the crucifixion, Jesus addressed God using a unique title: Abba. This is key because Jesus’ use of this title reveals something important about the nature of the God he knew. Abba is best translated “Dear Father.” It is a term of intimacy, but it also contains a sense of obedience. The fact that Jesus addressed God with the word Abba tells us that, to him, God was not distant or far removed, but was intimately involved in his life. It does not in itself tell us that God is good (neither dear nor father necessarily means good), but as New Testament scholar C. F. D. Moule notes, “The intimate word conveys not a casual sort of familiarity but the deepest, most trustful reverence.”
As I reflect on my childhood, I recognize the weight of the term daddy and how I associated my dad with a feeling of holiness and haunting – all in one. There were times I worshiped Him and times I feared Him. There were moments when I could not get close enough and others where I could not run away from him quickly enough! Often the two experiences were indistinguishable.
This sense of being haunted by holiness – experiencing the inestimable beauty of a good and just God in everyday living – is all but lost today. Holidays such as Advent – once designed to rekindle this fire – have been turned in on themselves and lack the punch of God’s glory that they once provided.
I think my main concern with Christmas is that we have flattened both the holiness and haunting to the degree that we experience neither, and are the worse for it. To recapture the glory Advent imagines and remember the haunting it entails, I have penned a daily prayer to reorient me to the God who “does it again and again.”
Perhaps you will find it of some benefit as you stammer your way through another flattened season in which beauty is neither experienced nor expected! As season in which we sacrifice the holy and suppress the haunting.
A PRAYER TO RECAPTURE THE HAUNTING HOLINESS OF ADVENT – TO ASK OUR DADDY TO ‘DO I AGAIN’
“May this season, often flattened and frenetic, bound by a frame with little room for you, expand to receive the haunting presence of your holy love: the beauty of your glory revealed! Haunt me with a sense of your love in the face of my enemies. Haunt me with a sense of your hope in the pit of my despair. Haunt me with a sense of your joy in the midst of the bitterness and frustration of moments lost in time.”
“My soul longs for the place where your joy and my desire meet. For it’s there – in this place – where my soul is satisfied. I look within and see distortions of many kinds. I know this ought not be and long for it not to be so. I pray that the internal flames that haunt my heart will be warmed by the majestic grace of your holiness. I pray that your glory will be revealed to me, in me and through me. I pray that my heart would bow in honor of you, and my life would respond in obedience to you. I ask, Lord, that you would reveal your glory as you have done so many times before. Satisfy my soul, Daddy. Do it again, as you have done so many times before.”
“As I look upon this world I see conflict and control, clamor and dismay. In the midst of this perpetual season of chaos, I pray that my soul might taste the peace which abides in you and extend the love made possible through you.”
“In the midst of my self-absorbed and overblown life, I pray that I will be reminded that you have reached your loving hand toward us at the precise moment in time when we were most unlovable.”
“When at the end of the day, the sun comes to rest, and her glory casts light on the horizon, may your holiness haunt all we who long for you. Set your glory upon us. May our hearts be haunted by your holiness and – in unison – proclaim – “Do it Again, Daddy! Do it Again.””
Disrupting to Renew!