The other day I happened to notice in my rear-view mirror a car darting through the traffic, as if the driver were on his way to a fire. But his was not an emergency vehicle, and so I could only imagine why somebody would take such crazy risks, given the heavy traffic. Obviously this person had something terribly important to attend to. Or not.
Eventually the driver worked his way up alongside me, and he missed my car by inches as he veered in front of me. It was all I could do to keep my cool, but just barely. Then, three or four minutes later, the traffic slowed to a crawl, and there he sat, a mere two car-lengths ahead. He had risked his own life and the safety of everybody else, and all he had to show for it was forty or fifty feet of road.
What struck me about this modern variation on the fable of the tortoise and the hare was the utter futility of it all. To all appearances the driver seemed to have a sense of purpose, and he’d seized both the wheel of his car and life with intensity. In fact, however, he’d reduced his life to some sort of video game. For a few miles he’d ceded control of his life to a primal urge to get ahead. But I suspect he scarcely realized he’d gained very little on the rest of us. We had plodded along at the speed limit, and for all his mania he’d gained perhaps twenty or thirty feet of roadway.
In my post of last week I noted that I was grateful to have the good sense to know that there’s room for improvement in my life. Even better, I was grateful that the Lord has given me some time to work on this. And then this Sunday, on the fist Sunday of Advent, Jesus spoke in the gospel about the need to prepare for the coming of the Lord. Am I right in thinking that Jesus may have meant those words for me?
Jesus warns that we know neither the day nor the hour of his coming, and this creates an air of urgency for those of us who get nervous about that kind of thing. What exactly is Jesus expecting of us as we prepare? Ought we to double-down, put our noses to the grindstone and make each and every minute be a peak experience? Ought we to ratchet up our activity, much as did the crazed driver? Do we dare waste a minute in idleness when our eternal life seems to be on the line?
Hyperactivity might be one course of action, and I fault no one for coming to that conclusion. But I don’t think that’s what Jesus had in mind when he counseled preparedness. In Matthew 24 Jesus goes on to note that two men were working in the field, and God took one. Two women were grinding at the mill, and one was taken and the other left. What’s important to note is that this wasn’t an issue of who was working harder. Everybody was busy. No hands were idle, and al were doing their fair share of the work.
The issue then is not the amount of work, but rather the sense of purpose that coursed through those four minds. All were equally busy, but two of them knew to expect the coming of the Lord. There was a meaning to even the simplest tasks that they had to do, and their self-awareness made all the difference in the world.
On the First Sunday of Advent Jesus reminds us that “at an hour we do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” Now it’s perfectly reasonable to assume that Jesus is talking about the end of time, or at the very least, about the last moment of our lives. But knowing what little I do about Jesus, I long ago concluded that Jesus was not the kind of guy who wants to wait and barge into my life at the very end, with a great big “surprise!” Rather, he really does want to be part of our lives, now. For those of us who thought this interval was ours to do with as we chose, this can be a little disconcerting. But as I’ve learned from people who claim to know, to this idea Jesus says “Fat chance!”
I fully expect to run into the Lord Jesus at the end of time, but between now and then I have no plans to run around like a mindless fool. I hope I don’t ever find myself speeding down the highway of life, oblivious to those I’m passing. Rather, I think the better course is to get a grip on myself and prepare to meet the Lord more than a few times, and well in advance of my own last day.
Soon enough we monks will be singing Advent lyrics that urge sleepers to wake. We might very well be a bit groggy when we sing them at morning prayer, but the point is well-taken. The words are a spiritual alarm clock. They are an urgent call to consider what God calls us to do with each and every day that we have ahead of us, beginning with today.
Finally, I live staked my life on the belief that God calls us to be neither wastrels nor workaholics. These, I think, lead down paths paved with self-delusion. Rather, God wants something very simple of us. God calls us to take a moment to consider where we might be meeting the Lord Jesus in the course of our day. And the thoughtful person knows to expect to find Jesus waiting just around the corner, ready and more than happy to surprise us yet again.
+On Thanksgiving Day Prior Brad presided at the Abbey Mass, and following that we all adjourned to the Abbey refectory for dinner. Through the years Thanksgiving has become my favorite holiday in the Abbey, largely due to the fact that we do not have to stay up half the night in church in order to earn the feast day. Sadly, vigil Masses are not my forte, as I normally get up an hour or two after they conclude. So Thanksgiving is the feast day made to order for early risers like me.
+On November 26th I witnessed the renewal of vows of my friends Drake and Madeline Dierkhising on the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary. Drake and his brother are the third generation of Dierkhising’s to go to school at Saint John’s, and the family roots go back to the beginnings of our neighboring town of Saint Joseph.
+We continue to have snow at Saint John’s, and in addition many of the last few days have been quite overcast and gray. The photos of the landscape in today’s post hint at that, and in fact some give the impression that I took them in black and white. I didn’t. The first photo shows a woman sleeping over a grave in the central cemetery in the city of Lviv in Ukraine.