This mother needs an Advent

Dave’s making a table. It’s going to be a long one with thick oak boards that once held back horses. In a month or two, maybe it’ll hold up plates of macaroni and cheese. When it’s done, it’ll gleam (I hope). I’ll wipe into my hand those bread crumbs, feeling the table’s texture — oh, it’s going to be good (I hope). He scavenged the boards from a pile in his dad’s shed. He’s a man with a year-long vision and, finally, some free lumber to make it happen: He’s making a table.

“I want to make something with my hands.” He keeps saying that; I think it’s an outward expression of the inner restlessness we feel over just, finally, doing something — now. We’ve spent the last few years pregnant, wandering, and all over all the Advents, and here we are: ready for who knows what. Now.

Maybe it’s the same feeling that has me sewing my first quilt or stitching gifts for Christmas. I want to see things come to life because of my fingers, because most of the stuff I’m involved with otherwise are the long-simmering, sometimes long-suffering kind: teaching math and manners, all those small-things-with-great-love things, writing, managing volunteers for Sunday school. The rustling and nesting is contagious, and it’s hard to know what came first — who first had the do-something-with-your-hands feeling? Is this because of Charlotte Mason? Was it incubating while I was reading about Catholic Worker farms last year; is this a commune-dream table? Is this because of the recent laid-off-and-rehired storyline?

Or was it multiplying in infinitesimal ways years ago, when we’d walk morosely into work with breakfast in our bags and stay until after the sun set? Maybe we’ve been wanting more space and productive, abundant life around us until we couldn’t hold that dream anymore, and now it’s coming out like homesickness for something we’ve not lived yet?

Maybe.

Sometimes when winter creeps in close and collides with everything happening all at once, plus runny-nose season, I feel God’s distant: the noise drowns out the whisper. I’ve read enough to realize it’s me who’s distant, and don’t I need an Advent. Henri Nouwen, always, draws near and sits with me.

He quotes in “Discernment” Jean-Pierre de Caussade, about his “sacrament of the present moment,” and it’s become my Advent thought I’ve carried these past few days. Isn’t that a mother’s phrase: “sacrament of the present moment”? Isn’t that a phrase for the 21st century? Isn’t it for me, the dreamer who wrestles with now being so … now?

The sacrament of the present moment:

“… (H)e assures us that God is speaking and revealing his will in every moment of every day, and that we can discern God’s presence and guidance through simple prayers each day: “When we abandon ourselves to God in prayer, then each moment becomes a sacrament of joy, gratitude, and loving acceptance of the will of God manifest in that moment.”

I’m not good at this, but Advent gives me reason to believe I can be.

Around July, when I’m on the porch with a book, when laundry’s on the clothesline in colorful rows, I’m really good at watching birds and feeling God near. In July, hope’s not a greeting-card phrase — it’s truer than that. December 3, as Advent invites me in for a hug, I put my quills out and balk. Hope’s written in foil on a Hallmark card or it’s been paired with joy and peace for a cute advertisement, maybe, but it’s abstract, that hope. Outside is dark; my dry hands crack and complain about the dishes; always the dishes; I run less, I follow rabbit trails I don’t need to be on. The kids argue over Lego men and their tiny Lego swords; we’re up too late and eat our breakfast long after the sun’s up.

“I’ve got one foot off the merry-go-round,” I say, quoting Wes Anderson movies before breakfast, pajama-wearing children running around at 9:15 a.m. It’s no wonder we’re making tables and quilts — we need some tangible beauty; something we can hold in our hands.

But, no: The sacrament of the present moment makes the pajamas-too-late moment an occasion for joy, of course, and the quills retract if I can consider God in that messy moment. 

Advent’s for all of us, yes; but it’s for me, a mother of three small ones in the northern hemisphere.

Nouwen begs me to sit down, chair facing the barren trees in the back yard, and do a running stitch over the words traced in pencil on some scrap fabric: again, the Be Still.

Each time the floss knotted as I pulled, I thought of the hermits out there in the African desert: “Ceaseless prayer soon heals the mind.”

Each time I stopped to tie a shoe or divert an argument, there, too. “… the man of good works will also have good words.”

And each time I noticed those leathery-looking oak leaves blow across the deck, I knew I was closer, even if I didn’t feel like it. The feeling’s not the indicator of God being near: they’re floozy and capricious, my feelings; apt to whimsy with caffeine and chocolate. No, God’s near because He said He was.

I need an Advent to see — nay — know it now, though.

Let’s have ourselves a merry little Advent, and pull our chairs up closer to the windows and look out until we see better, yes?

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