“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Tugged at by the acerbic words of John the Forerunner, I am drawn to repentance. I ask myself what I have to repent of this year? Well, the answer is, “quite a bit.” There’s my racism, my unwillingness to speak truth to power, my fear of change and danger, my selfishness, my laziness, my pride – and countless other things I could name given just a few more minutes in which to remember them.
But Christmas is drawing near. Ever since I was a kid, I have felt the mystery and awe of this season of hope in darkness. So I find I don’t want to focus on my own activity, not even on the good work of repenting. I want instead to be open, to be completely still, to listen for the first new breath of the Holy One in the world. As the hymn says, Love comes down. Can I spot it as it glimmers into being?
When I was in high school and living in Jackson, Wyoming, I would ride my bicycle up into Grand Teton National Park on warm summer days, and find a patch of ground far from the places people usually ventured. There, I would have a sack lunch. Then I would sit still, watching and listening. Pretty soon the birds would come out and begin pecking for insects and seeds. Then would come the little animals, the ground squirrels and rabbits. And finally, if I were still enough, long enough, the “mega mammals” would appear – badgers, coyotes, elk, bear or moose. They were breath-taking in their wildness, and I would watch them, unnoticed, until either they wandered off or it was time for me to go. I always came away feeling deeply nourished and refreshed.
Spotting Love becoming manifest in the mid-winter world feels a little like that. It takes being still for a long time in order to see Christ emerge into the dark stillness. And when he does suddenly appear it is breath-taking and wild. And it nourishes me.
John baptized with water in anticipation of the fiery, Spirit-filled transformation that is Christ’s. Perhaps making room to listen and to watch is itself a kind of baptism. It repents in a different way, through looking at things from a different perspective. It is a “metanoia”, a turning around. I change my focus from me – what I have done and left undone – to God – what was born in Bethlehem, what is being born now, what will be born in some unknown future.
I don’t mean that I am let off the hook for all the ways I fall short of being God’s person and my most authentic self. I don’t mean that I can’t overhaul my life so that it is more meaningfully focused on what is really important. I don’t mean that I will gloss over my sinfulness with a cavalier disregard. I mean that now is the time to set all of that aside for a bit.
We are in the deep forest. It is the middle of winter and the middle of the night. Everywhere we look is darkness. Let’s be still and see what will appear.
Laurie Gudim is a religious iconographer and writer living in Fort Collins, Colorado. To see some of her images, visit everydaymyteries.com