Advent as Calendar Space
When Daniel asked me to add a few reflections to this site, I was happy to oblige. With him, I share a concern that our culture lacks space for the kind of quietness and stillness that the season of Advent encourages.
This concern is apparently shared by other Christians. Blaise Pascal, for example, who lived in the 1600s in France, wrote this: “All of humanity’s problems stem from our inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
And C.S. Lewis, who was particularly perceptive and prescient about the challenges of modern life, told a group of students at Oxford in 1945 that “We live in a world starved for solitude, silence, and privacy, and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.” One among many of the causes for this, he said, was the increasingly popular technology of “the wireless.”
Can you imagine either Pascal or Lewis being dropped into our world, and the shock and despair they would feel at the explosion of ways we have created to distract ourselves in the early 21st century? It’s not just the “wireless” anymore—or whatever was distracting people in mid-17th century France—but TV and the internet and mobile phones with alerts designed to interrupt us and distract us so we pay attention to a constant stream of “urgent” news or texts or social media updates.
In our world today, it is almost impossible to avoid the cacophony of noise in our daily lives, which is why trips to the mountains or the woods—where we are forced to be “off the grid”—can be so refreshing and bracing and healing. These areas—because they are a particular type of geographic space—encourage and create opportunities for emotional and spiritual retreat.
In the same way, Advent encourages and creates an opportunity for retreat because it is a particular type of calendar space—a particular type of time. Advent encourages us to “Be still,” as God invites us to do in Psalm 46. And this stillness, in turn, allows us to more fully trust the promise made earlier in that same Psalm—that God will be our refuge, our strength and our help in times of trouble.
Given the non-stop noise that surrounds us in our world today, perhaps Advent can be a time to acknowledge that one of the “troubles” that besets us is this unceasing and unrelenting noise. It is troublesome for any number of reasons, but maybe most importantly, it is troublesome because it so easily and so comprehensively drowns out the voice of God.
The God we worship, after all, isn’t prone to shouting, something we as Christians are reminded of repeatedly in scripture and song. As Elijah experienced, God reveals himself in “a still small voice,” or “a whisper,” or “the sound of sheer silence.” Similarly, in the words of a well-known hymn, we are reminded that God comes to us “as one unknown, a breath unseen, unheard,” making himself present to us “when souls in silence lie”—a posture Advent encourages.
And, of course, Daniel Kantor, in Night of Silence, echoes that same truth when he writes of a “voice in the distance,” a “call in the night.” That voice and that call, he reminds us, bring with them not a loud shout of certainty, but instead a soft whisper sharing “rumors” of an embracing dawn.
As Christians, we live with a hope-filled longing that these rumors might be true. We live with a faith that this promised dawn will one day come. This Advent, in the midst of a noisy and frenetic world, may we quiet and still ourselves enough to once again hear these whispers—and to trust the gentle voice that calls us home.
Tim Westermeyer serves as Senior Pastor of St. Philip the Deacon Lutheran Church in Plymouth, Minnesota—a position he assumed in May 2014. He had previously served as Executive Pastor of St. Philip the Deacon since 2007. Pastor Westermeyer also runs and manages the Faith & Life Lecture Series, a community service he founded in 2003. Ordained to pastoral ministry in 2002, Westermeyer holds graduate degrees in theology and ethics from Luther Seminary and The University of Notre Dame, and a Bachelor of Arts in English from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn. He has served on the board of Feed My Starving Children, and currently serves on the board of MacLaurinCSF, a Christian Study Center at the University of Minnesota.