“Eric, look out the window!”
The voice pierced the silence of the house as I sat reading in another room. But curiosity got the better of me, and I opened the blinds. And there it was: a huge truck wedged into an impossibly tight cul-de-sac. Truly this qualified as one of those things you don’t see every day.
It took nearly two hours for the driver to extricate himself and the truck, but not before he had done some serious damage. For one thing, he tore up a major chunk of someone’s lawn, and he chewed up the sprinkler system for good measure. He also grazed a mailbox, sheered off part of a hedge and some branches in a tree, crumbled the pavers in a driveway and clipped off a standing pipe. All in all it was great entertainment, unless you were the owner of the lawn or the driver. That poor driver sweat bullets the entire time, and it was no comfort to him that he had kept us amused for half the morning. To be honest, I thought it was a scream; but ultimately I had to feel sorry for him. There but for the grace of God — and a B+ in high school geometry — went I.
Left unanswered was one simple question. Why would a perfectly sane and seasoned driver ignore warnings and steer an extra-long rig filled with cars into a cul-de-sac that was impossibly small to manage? There was no way on earth he could make that turn. But he must have thought he could defy the laws of geometry by will-power alone. He couldn’t, of course, and for his hubris he paid a hefty price.
Why any of us do stupid and irrational things is hard to understand. Perhaps it stems from the overweening self-confidence that assures us we can do all things. Perhaps we think we are exempt from the rules that govern normal society. Or perhaps it boils down to the pride that says the laws of common sense exist for others but not for me. I’m above all that, after all. I am the center of the universe and am bound by no constraints.
In my personal journal of wonders, this qualified as one of the “great moments in trucking history,” and its timeliness could not have been better. On the Third Sunday of Advent John the Baptist steps onto the stage, and the question in everyone’s mind is his identity. Who is he? What has he come to do? Is he the savior, or is there somebody else?
In short order John provides the answers. His work points to another who is yet to come. Life is not about him, but his life does have meaning because with his finger he points to God who is walking in their midst. And, he concludes, “make straight the path to the Lord.” That, by the way, was the advice the neighbors had given the truck-driver. “Go straight down the this boulevard and stop. But don’t you dare turn right into the street with the cul-de-sac.”
John the Baptist points to a fundamental choice we all have to make. On the one hand the gravitational pull to an egocentric life is almost irresistible. But the sooner we make room in our lives for other people, the better off we’ll be. The sooner we allow God to tip-toe into our lives, the more quickly our lives begin to fill with wonder and beauty. And the sooner we look for the direct path to God, the less likely we’ll be to wander off onto the byway and into the impossible cul-de-sac.
The Bible is replete with stories of people who found themselves lost in the desert, or built their houses on sand, or ignored the voice of God whispering in their ear. Common to them all was the assumption that they did not need God. God could add little value to their lives. God was for the weak, but not for the strong and independent. But soon enough they all discovered that they were not masters of the universe, despite the self-flattery that tickled their ears.
Basically that’s what John the Baptist said to his crowds, and it’s what he says to us as well. We can try to hack our own path through the jungle of life, or cut corners through somebody else’s life, but those lead metaphorically and literally to some dead-end. But if, on the other hand, we recognize our kinship with our neighbor and with God, we might very well find that the path to God is a lot easier than we thought. If we can hear the voice of God speaking through John the Baptist, it’s also possible to hear God in our neighbor, telling us to take the high road.
We may get side-tracked now and again, but with the help of God and the support of our friends, we’ll never get stuck in a cul-de-sac.
+On Sunday afternoon, December 14th, the abbey hosted our Latino neighbors from parishes from around central Minnesota, in celebration of the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Abbot John presided at the Mass.
+There are a variety of ways to celebrate Advent, and across Europe the Christmas Market is among the most visible. Little villages of shops sprout up in town squares, selling everything from food to gifts to Christmas decorations. What makes them particularly pleasant is the unhurried nature of these gatherings. Entire families go and take their time to browse, eat, and visit with neighbors and friends. In this gallery I’ve provided photos that I took at a particularly impressive Christmas Market in Vienna, in the square that fronts the Town Hall. It’s likely the biggest and best in the city, but it has competition in many other neighborhoods.
+In addition to the three photos of the truck in the cul-de-sac, I’ve included two that allow a glimpse into the festive character of Vienna in the Advent season. Of course they have no monopoly on decorations, but in this season of Advent the center of the city is especially bright. It helps them pull through the longest and darkest days of the year. After New Year spring may not be just around the corner, but at least the days begin to lengthen.