Be present to this moment
I first learned the word “Advent” not as a season, but as a description of small cardboard calendars that my parents brought home from Europe. Each year following Thanksgiving, we unpacked them from musty decoration boxes. My brother and I would open one tiny door each day leading up to Christmas. Behind the doors were little scenes from the nativity story: Mary on a donkey, sheep and shepherds, Joseph knocking at the Inn. We never wanted to miss out on seeing what was behind each door or taking our turn to open.
Such curiosity and attention is a beautiful human gift. A desire to know what is next helps us organize our worlds. Yet giving total attention to the next thing can prevent us from living fully in the present moment. Preoccupations with exciting or dreadful future stories or mindless ruminating on past pleasures or regrets are easy. It is much harder to be fully focused on the moment right in front of us, to listen and speak into that moment as if there were no other.
To listen and speak in the moment, fully present to it, is the call of Advent waiting. To open just the one little door, to see whatever is there for today, to notice it fully. Occasionally we find courage to be present in a way that actually does a work of deep change in us. Some time ago I had such a moment. The only way that it happened was in my complete and utter presence to that moment. It was scary. My heart was beating loudly enough I thought surely others might hear. I spoke honestly about myself. I didn’t know where it might go. But when I took a risk, grace opened up. I was more myself. I was heard. I was stunned by the profound presence of God. Something new was born in me. And I came away with a surprising mantra on my lips: Be present to this moment.
In the days that followed that mantra tugged at me like a two-year-old at my shirtsleeves. Be present to this moment. These words helped me resist clinging to past or future. Instead I was able without reservation to open each small door set before me, to look with loving attention, to listen, to speak. And the new thing in me keeps coming to life.
Holy God, may we never miss out on seeing what is behind each tiny door or taking our turn to open.
This Advent devotion is one I wrote this year for the church of my childhood and youth, Cumberland Baptist in Knoxville, Tennessee.