This December arrives grudgingly as we trudge through yet another month of pandemic puzzlement. It is a looming, daunting, apparently endless journey. Advent expectancy this year is replete with a dire sense that the dilemma will never go away. When once we were begged to “take off our masks and let our real selves shine,” we now hear equal pleas to put masks on to save ourselves and others.
Questions pierce the air. When will this end? What’s happening to our sense of normalcy? What will comprise a “new normal”? How do we live within the deadliness of fatiguing losses? What has all, or any, of this to do with our spirituality? Is it all a hoax? What will Christmas be like this year? Will there soon be an effective vaccine available to all, or do we continue to wait in masked fear and disguised hope?
No one has a clear answer. None dares a definitive response. There are only barely whispered pleas to wait and see, wait to see—be and become Advent people who deeply comprehend the incomprehensible potency of expectancy.
I know I am not proficient in waiting, especially when it is obvious that the lingering uncertainty will be far longer than I desire or anticipate. I am a “get-’er-done” person. Expectancy, too soon, becomes a form of procrastination, and I get antsy. I sense that I am in a strange vacuum of time where nothing is accomplished and all remains static. It seems so lacking in holiness and wholesomeness. It does not feel like sacred time or space.
Then I read, as if for the first time, the Lucan account of the Annunciation with its awesome fiat, Mary’s assent to the will of God. I am struck with details I had previously—too quickly and easily—glossed over in my rush to bring closure to the episode. This time, I lingered in the space between yes and no, go and come, sorrow and joy. This time, I paused in the potency found before the fiat’s finality. I rested in the respite instead of pushing against it. This time, I linked my life with Mary’s. At least I tried to do it; I tried to enter that space where time stops and eternity enters.
How can this be? I mulled over the question as Mary might have done . . . perhaps must have done. How can this be life when it seems so riddled with too many obvious problems and too few satisfying answers?
The angelic message began with a hail of grace, a declaration of God’s presence in this dilemma. It was a comforting feeling—until the uncomfortableness of the looming details became real. Mary was troubled with the “loose ends” she knew would be hers to handle. I can relate to that. I also wonder what kind of greeting is coming my way in this pause before fiat. What is my fate to be if I respond negatively, and what is it to be if I say yes?
I suspect we are all uniquely immersed in the mixed blessings Advent’s pause offers us this year. The wearying puzzlement clouds our heroic attempts to wait for new birth with joyful courage. We want the memories of past expectancies which eventually exploded with life to be, once more, ours to enjoy. We want Advent to be a quiet, lovely time of waiting. We do not want to it to be a time masked with worries, concerns, dire possibilities. We want to embrace each other lovingly once more. We want to bid farewell to air hugs, elbow nudges, and social distancing. And we want to be rid of the fear. We want the slow-burning, ever-present fear of contagion to go away. We want our fiat to be open and honest. At the same time, we know it cannot be real unless it contains heartfelt love, the love of divinity for us, in us, and working through us.
Yes, I am afraid. If I read the angelic words accurately, it would appear that Mary’s pondering was also riddled with fear. She must have been trembling when she heard, “Do not be afraid. You have found favor with God.” To be a chosen one is to be unafraid to pause with trembling but graced inhalation before exhaling a deliberate fiat.
Inhale the gift of incredible life, life only encountered deep within the womb of our being. Name that life holy. Know its holiness is replete with the power of divinity. Once named, once recognized as real and true and inescapable, it will become evident everywhere and in everyone. It will be a pandemic blessing flowing through us to suffuse the entire universe.
We pause to reflect on our words and actions. We contemplate both our being one and our refusal to be in communion with one another. We listen for the voices of angels and cower in the midst of their commanding presence. We uncover the persons God has called us to be and discover we are beholding goodness. We allow the power of the Most High to overshadow us and bask in the enormous quiet of that cloak. We accept, with trembling faith and a childlike innocence, to grow within our being until it can be birthed into the universe. We pause to know that God is God and we are God’s delight. We are the clay. God is the potter. We are all the work of God’s hands.
In her book Grace in Every Season, Catherine de Hueck Doherty offered these words to deepen our understanding of love’s laboring presence: “Give Christ room, not only to grow to his full stature in you, but to have a place within you to roam as he may wish, a place for him to breathe and stretch.” There it is: to wait with expectancy is to make room for God to roam. It is the pause before our fiat. Let it be done to us, according to God’s word.
Fran Salone-Pelletier has a master’s degree in theology and is the author of Awakening to God: The Sunday Readings in Our Lives (a trilogy of scriptural meditations), lead volunteer chaplain at Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center, religious educator, retreat leader, lecturer, and grandmother of four. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.