A blind girl sees for the first time after getting her sight from cataract surgery. Annie Dillard describes the girl’s experience visiting a garden:
“She is greatly astonished and can scarcely be persuaded to answer, stands speechless in front of the tree, which she only names on taking hold of it, and then as ‘the tree with the lights in it.'”
I don’t know how many times I have gone back to Dillard’s “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek,” but I’d forgotten that passage until coming across it again, afresh, while reading John Eldredge. I love the description of “the tree with the lights in it.”
Today is the first Sunday in Advent. In his sermon this morning. Father Scott Albergate invited us to look at Advent as a time to “pause and seek a fresh start in your life.” He described Advent as having a couple points, which resonated with me: 1) to live in hope, and 2) to live with a sense of a call to action and a purpose.
This has been a year of a lot of reflection for me, of trying to figure things, life out (nothing new there). It’s been a year where I have felt God and Christ in my life in ways I haven’t before, and I have tried to get out of the way, to surrender to these rolling waves that come over me, which I don’t have words to describe. They come in prayer, on walks, while running, while writing, raking leaves. All I can do is ride them as best I can.
Advent is new for me in that way. I’ve been through 40-some Advent seasons, and yet T.S. Eliot could have been using my eyes to say:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
It’s not coincidence that I’ve written about Dillard and Eliot before, quoting some of the same passages, but now they circle back via Eldredge or others, and they are new, changed, even though the words are the same. I read them differently.
These waves of faith and feeling and newness aren’t constant. I misstep, get turned around, make mistakes on a regular and frequent basis. Life is still confusing and I still struggle.
But I hear Father Scott invite us to look back at “where we see God’s movement in our lives in the past year,” and I know He is at work in new ways; starting things this year that haven’t been there in the past.
There are times when I feel beat down by life. And there are times when I feel like the tree with the lights in it.
Light. Having new eyes, seeing things differently. Starting life afresh is choosing to be awake to what is going on around us; choosing to be awake to God at work around us and through us.
I was pulled into this photograph today, and the photography of Pete Muller more broadly afterwards. There is something about the landscape, the river, the boys tending their cows, a beauty in the present moment. It takes me around the world to Kenya, a place I have never been, and connects me through the human experience, nature, caring for animals (it is Muller walking his dog that puts him there). I can’t say for sure why, but the scene gives me a deep sense of peace; if a scene can smile, this one does for me.
Glory be to God for dappled things–
For skies of couple-colour as a brindled cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced–fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
-Gerard Manley Hopkins, “Pied Beauty–”
Hopkins, Eliot, Dillard, each are awake to everything around them, each moment.
Advent is a time to pause and reflect and a call to action. It is both a looking forward with hope, and a being awake to life and what God is doing right now. Part of our job, going back to Father Scott’s sermon, is “to usher in the realm of God in the present moment.”