Friday, December 9, 2011

Advent reflection

A reflection on today's Gospel, written for the Fairfield University community:

Jesus said to the crowds: "To what shall I compare this generation? It is like children who sit in marketplaces and call to one another, "We played the flute for you, but you did not dance, we sang a dirge but you did not mourn." For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they said, "He is possessed by a demon." The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they said, "Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.' But wisdom is vindicated by her works." (Mt 11:16-19)

Today’s gospel could well have been written any day this week, as the news shouts at me on all sides and the jumble of daily living picks up in tempo as we race toward the end of the semester.

Somehow, the need is to keep a steady hand on the tiller, aware of the choppy seas, making small adjustments as we go, yet staying on course. I know that a combination of steadiness and flexibility is the most productive approach to a turbulent time.

But at the moment all I can hear are the voices calling me to zig and zag. Like children, they need attention right now; their anxiety is shrill with complaint: faster, please -- and bigger and louder and brighter. Every email brings either a shameful reproach or a fresh temptation. Even my own spiritual practices leave me up for grabs: my silence feels like a cop-out, my attentiveness merely self-serving.

In panic I grasp a quiet mantra that appears as a moment of sheer grace, a sturdy phrase that holds the pieces of my life in place with a finely-delineated integrity – until a quick internet search finds that these same words first appeared as the laugh line in a year-old advertisement for appliance repair. In the age of Google, everything we hold as dear will, at some point, serve as burlesque.

The only lodestar I find, in the gospel story with its needy cast and conflicting pieties, is wisdom. Wisdom does not beg and she rarely exhorts; she is neither given nor taken. Wisdom strides through the marketplace, her hand is sure, she is “vindicated by her works.” In this Advent season, as the children cry out for a dance and the whirl of images seem never to resolve, I cling to her.