As I will be away for the first week of Advent, I thought I would dig out a post I wrote a couple of years ago. Not much has changed: my friend, D and I still brave the perils of the Link road to visit each other and we are all still too busy for our own good! I will be taking the Paula Gooder book with me and hope to havea little time to spend in contemplating its wisdom.
So, here's one I wrote earlier, in 2009
Tomorrow I'm going to visit my dear friend D of 60 going on 16. I live in North Devon, which is connected to the Rest of the World by the notorious North Devon Link Road. D lives just across the border, in the Rest of the World so, dear reader, I will be taking my life in my hands for the sake of friendship, just as D does when she comes to visit me.
The Link Road was built in the late 1980s to divert the ever-increasing holiday traffic from the villages along the old A398 route to the coast. The planners did not take into account the fact that a faster road would attract even more traffic and they built a wide single carriage road instead of a decent dual carriageway. In consequence, instead of a pleasurable drive through some stunning farm and moorland scenery, one risks life and limb amid the boy racers and impatient business men and women who aim to get from Barnstaple to Tiverton in record time.
I used to drive this route several times a week and frequently had to pull onto the hard shoulder to avoid a head-on collision with someone doing a reckless overtake in the other direction. Road blocks, diversions and piles of floral tributes are frequent reminders of lives lost and families devastated by moments of careless impatience. One traffic policeman told me that the maximum time that can be gained by driving faster than the 60mph speed limit on that road is 10 minutes. J Alfred Prufrock measured out his life with coffee spoons, that seems to me a less trivial epitaph than 'I traded 50 years of my life to save 10 minutes.'
This sombre and rambling preamble is leading to an explanation for my recent absence from the blogging scene! My internet connection was intermittent during the recent stormy weather but that, I hope, is now passing. What has really kept me away from the keyboard is this book:
The Meaning is in the Waiting
The Spirit of Advent
by Paula Gooder
It is one of the books that I took to Spain and I used it for my daily reflection. In it, Paula Gooder sets out to "stimulate you to think a little more about waiting: why we do it, what it feels like to be someone who waits, what happens when we don't wait and why God might want us to get better at it." She doesn't offer answers but opens up questions and suggests new ways of looking at things.
I was so inspired by the book that I used it as the basis for an Advent preparation day that I was organising for my parish. While the religious context is obvious, everyone who attended on Saturday agreed that the ideas were relevant to all areas of life and that our impatient society would benefit from rediscovering the art of waiting. (If anyone would like a copy of the study notes that I prepared, I would be happy to send them as a Word document email attachment or to mail them.)
The title, The meaning is in the waiting, is taken from the poem Kneeling by the poet-priest R. S. Thomas. When the group I led began to think about major events in their lives, they were able to see how true this was: the preparation and anticipation of a wedding, a birth or a visit can hold more meaning for us than the actual event, which can seem like an anti-climax, lost in a frenzy of activity. This can be especially true of Christmas Day when getting the house ready, shopping and cooking can leave us too exhausted to appreciate the day itself. The whole of December can be lost in frantic, bustling preparation or it can be a time of active, productive waiting.
Advent is a paradox: we wait for an event that has already happened. I fear that we are losing our sense of awe and wonder and our ability to accept and appreciate mystery. I can live very happily with paradox, I don't want the whole of life to be rationalised but I do appreciate the way that Paula Gooder presents us with a way of seeing the waiting that connects the past, the end times and the present. This is one of those rare books that I have encountered in my life that leaves me feeling that I may not understand something but I somehow know it.
She uses another piece of poetry, from Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Aurora Leigh:
Earth's crammed with heaven,
and every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes -
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.
She has convinced me that I want to spend Advent without my shoes, appreciating the opportunity to wait in hope and thoughtful anticipation so that, come Christmas, those blackberries or, more likely cranberries, will taste the sweeter.
Here is a gift I had from the longest-serving friend of my youth. It is a rare image of the pregnant Mary, from a 14th century wall painting; a true picture of waiting in joyful hope:
I will be using this, alongside the Advent wreath, to aid my Advent reflections.