The Third Sunday of Advent / Year A
Not only do my favorite comedians make me laugh, they help me to see the world from a different angle. Steven Wright, whose humor is drier than an overcooked side of bacon, contends “Everywhere is within walking distance if you have enough time.” Another comedian surmised the sinking of the Titanic was a tragedy for everyone on board except the lobsters in its kitchen. And George Carlin, famous for his off-the-wall observations, declared, “Some people see the glass half full, others see it half empty, but I see a glass that’s twice as big as it needs to be.” It is all about perspective, isn’t it!
Here is something I have learned from the pilgrimages I have undertaken in Spain, Scotland, and the Holy Land. You go on a pilgrimage (or any journey for that matter) with an itinerary – where you will go, when you will be there, where you will stay, what you will see and do. You go with an itinerary, but you come back with a perspective, often new and deeply formative.
You never go on a pilgrimage projecting what your new perspective will be. God, working in and through the experience, determines what it will be for you. And what I have gained from a pilgrimage has never been exactly the same as what any other person travelling with me gained. And yet we are bound together by being together, by walking with one another while something uniquely personal is happening to each one of us.
I am grateful for how each pilgrimage I have been on, like every experience I have had, has enriched my life. Steve Job, the brilliant founder of Apple Computers, recognized how these experiences enhance a person’s world, and, conversely, how their lack depletes it. Listen to what he said:
A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.
While there is value in every new experience, it is not necessarily guaranteed a pilgrim will emerge from any one them with new insight or perspective on life. Like T.S. Eliot noted in The Four Quartets, “We had the experience but missed the meaning.” Sometimes, perhaps most times, discerning meaning takes time and effort. It may only emerge way down the road and in concert with additional experiences. Other times, the meaning is apparent, but appropriating it is a slow and arduous process.
I hear all of this in today’s Gospel reading as Jesus poses to the crowd a question about John the Baptist and his ministry: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at?” He is not asking about their itinerary. He is not asking specifically about what happened when they encountered John. He is not asking about their expectations. He wants to know how it affected them. What happened to you when you went out into the wilderness? What did it mean to you then? What does it mean to you now? How are you different? How have you been changed by what happened? How have you resisted what the moment brought to you? You had the experience. Did you get the meaning?
You can’t open a dictionary or search the internet or turn to the Catechism to find answers to these questions because they are intensely personal. What unites fellow pilgrims is not a shared outcome, but being together with one another throughout the journey and supporting one another throughout the process of discovery and transformation.
These are good Advent questions and good questions for each of us to ponder as we worship with Heaven and Nature singing. What did you come here expecting to see? If you want to, you can get a notepad and make a list of everything we have added to our worship space. If you are talented, you can sketch it. But we all recognize there is a huge difference between the inventory of what is new and the meaning it has and holds for each one of us. What is happening to you as a result of what we are doing in our Advent worship?
Last Sunday evening our Youth Group members were excited to show their friends our worship space. And we had a really interesting discussion about what we have done, why we have done it, and what each of us might add to it. We tried to talk about what it means to each of us, but the answers to this question proved more elusive. I suspect the same is true for us adults. By all accounts we are enjoining the experience, but the meaning is still percolating… and this is OK.
I continue to pray God will use this space and time to form and shape each one of us. I am grateful for the experience, and look forward to having a deeper sense of its meaning.