Friday of the Second Week of Advent
A story is told about one of my favorite saints, Teresa of Avila. In order to comprehend the story, you need to know that she is the founder of the Order of Discalced Carmelites, a very strict order in which people do a lot of fasting and other ascetic acts. The word “discalced” means “unshod,” and these Carmelites walk around barefoot or in sandals, again as an ascetic practice, and also as a witness to the fact that Jesus himself was poor and did not have shoes in the way that we do. Teresa advocated lots of time for prayer and contemplation, a very difficult thing to do. So, imagine the surprise of her nuns when they encountered her in the kitchen one day eating partridge, and clearly enjoying it. The nuns exclaimed that she wasn’t fasting, but Teresa said, “When I fast, I fast, and when I partridge, I partridge.”
Today’s gospel lesson (Matthew 11:16-19) reminded me of this story, for Jesus suggests that this generation of people is doing all the wrong things at the wrong times. “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we played the dirge for you and you did not mourn.” The people did not, apparently, know the right ways to respond – their signals were crossed. The Old Testament lesson (Isaiah 48:17-19) tells us simply that if we follow God, we will be doing the right things and God will reward us. Unlike the New Testament generation Jesus describes, we will know the right thing to do if we are following God. “Wisdom is vindicated,” Jesus says.
The trouble is, how do we become wise like that? How do we know that we are following God and doing the right things at the right time? I have two thoughts about this. First, perhaps the scripture is calling us to realize our arrogance, to realize that we are not as smart as we think we are about what needs to be done, and need to practice a little humility. God may well be asking us to do something different than what we have done before. So as we wait for Jesus, perhaps we are being asked to reflect on the times and places where we have been (and are) a bit too sure of ourselves.
Second, I think the scripture is reminding us to pay attention to the present circumstances in which we find ourselves, rather than living too far into the future. The future is often very different than what we imagined, so living for whatever future we might imagine takes us down a false path.
Christmas will come, the Light of the World will be here, and we have hope in that. But at this present moment, we are waiting, and there is something important about the waiting itself. In the very act of waiting, we create space in our lives for God to be with us. God is always with us now, where we are. If we are imagining the future too much, we will miss that God is with us right now. And so we will be foolish, because we’ll be looking for God where God is not.
Teresa is wise. She is paying attention to what God has placed in front of her at this particular moment. When she fasts, she pays attention to fasting well. And when she feasts, she pays attention to feasting well. In this time of waiting, let us reflect on the ways that we might wait, well – and so be with God, because God is wherever we are now.
- Jana M. Bennett