On getting ready to get ready

Those of us with depressive or depression-vulnerable temperments often have a special affinity with the penitential seasons of the church year. Advent, in particular, we may find to be a much-needed refuge from the relentless manufactured cheeriness of the commercial "holiday season." We take solice in the collective expressions of longing and expectation, mourning and repentance (or the wallowing in self-condemnation that we are tempted to substitute for true repentance). The minor key music of the more reflective season seems more in line with the posture of our own souls.

The trouble is that these seasons come to an end. The holiday at the end of the tunnel feels like a bright light shining straight into eyes accustomed to candlelight. Last year I found myself entering Holy Week not with the impatient expectation that I have chided myself for in the past -- being so eager for Easter that I wished to catapult over the intermediate observations, especially the quiet waiting of Saturday -- but instead with a sense of frantic unpreparedness: "It can't be Easter yet! I'm not ready to rejoice!" Bishop N.T. Wright in Surprised by Hope quite rightly calls upon the church to celebrate the season of Easter with at least as much creative exuberance as we observe Lent with self-denial. Yet I would just as soon go back to Candlemas, see my own shadow, and hunker down for another six weeks of Lent. Seems I may need to repent of a undue attachment to seasons of repentance.

Because this is the grace of the liturgical year -- like time itself, upon which it imposes a sacred order -- it is relentless. It keeps coming around, year after year, season after season, with another opportunity to repent and another opportunity to celebrate. We are never ready for the seasons of preparation; we never find ourselves fully ready even at their end.

I have found comfort in this first week of Advent in the admission of more than one thoughtful blogger that they all too often slip into the pew on Christmas Eve thinking, "Okay, NOW I'm ready for Advent to start."

Some years we may be more ready to reflect and repent, some years we may be more ready to celebrate. But mother church invites us to do both, year after year, in whatever imperfect way we can manage. It's okay that we're not ready to repent -- let us repent anyway. It's okay that we're not ready to rejoice -- let us rejoice anyway. Let us not dread the season nor its coming to an end, but receive both as the gifts they are.


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