I know it is almost cliche to think about pregnancy as a metaphor for Advent–the waiting, the preparation for baby Jesus to come. For me, this has literally been true more than once; each of my pregnancies was in the early stages during the Advent season. Putting myself back in that frame of mind and looking forward, I certainly experienced pregnancy as I have often experienced Advent: waiting and preparation to celebrate the arrival of a longed-for child. Getting the house ready, buying clothes and bedding, even reading the special pregnancy scripture–What to Expect When You Are Expecting. LIke I said, cliche.
But looking backward, I see that period in a different light. When you are pregnant, you see that period of time as preparing for the baby. Looking back, it seems more like pregnancy is not the time during which you make room for baby, it is the time during which you prepare to change your life forever. And this happens whether you get the right kind of diapers or not. It isn’t your old life plus one; it is a whole new way of being.
I have never adopted a child, but I am willing to bet the waiting period for adoption works the same way. Once you know it is going to happen, but before your child officially joins your family, you have a waiting period. During that time, you get your house ready and acquire all the things your child will need. But more importantly, you are getting ready to be changed, to enter a whole new life.
This Advent, I am trying to keep that in mind. I’m still shopping and decorating like I did for the arrival of my own children. But I’m also trying to imagine what it means to have Advent make us ready for a whole new life that includes the incarnated God. I may not get it exactly right, which also happened when I had my children. But I’ll get the chance to take that pregnant pause again next year. Changing an inch at a time toward that whole new life.
On December 8th 102 years ago, my grandmother Mary Eliza Livingston Haden was born and became the first Mary in our family. My mom and I both carry the name forward as best we can; the original is a hard act to follow.
When she was a tot, my grandmother contracted polio, which colored the rest of her life. Her childhood included more than a dozen surgeries, being pushed by her mother to exercise and do things on her own, looking different with her clubbed feet and uneven hips. When she was in her 80s she told me that she thinks the experience made her more compassionate towards other people who were different. Indeed, during the civil rights era, she was the privileged white lady who pushed others to think inclusively.
A faithful Christian, she served her church and mentored many would-be priests. I am certain that if she had been born 30 years later she would have been a bishop. She didn’t have a lot of patience with people who clung to tradition for tradition’s sake and was usually leading the way when it came to liturgical updates, gender equality, or even LGBT inclusion. (She was Carter Heyward’s godmother.)
She did a lot of things she was not supposed to because of her health. She danced, drove a car, had three children. I guess the risk proved worthwhile because she later was Gaga to seven grandchildren and got to meet three of her nine great-grands.
Gaga had a good sense of humor and was sometimes funny without meaning to be. After a particularly bad illness she told me her electrolytes almost went out. A sharp wit was a good trait if you were married to Bob Haden, a character in his own right. (Really, he could be an honorary Mary with the stories we have on him.)
For this reason and so many more, Mary Livingston Haden is the first Mary to be inducted into the Hall of Marys. Others will follow, some more well known, some still living. I know she will welcome them all with Southern hospitality and her famous pickled shrimp.
Blue or purple? There are some in the church who enough time on their hands this time of year to debate which is the proper liturgical color for Advent. At Maryology, when such questions arise we ask, “What would Mary do?” Clearly, based on many images of Mary of Nazareth we can see her choice:
Virgen humildad, Fra Angelico
I am a huge metaphor addict. Truly, I stumble across visual and verbal analogies just about everywhere. There is not much practical use for this tendency in daily life–it has never gotten me anywhere on time and doesn’t get my kids dressed and fed in the morning. But I think it might come in handy this month. Today is the beginning of Advent, a season brimming, bursting with metaphorical possibilities. It is compared to pregnancy, a journey, light. We see blues and purples and pinks with their symbolic meanings. Captivity and freedom. I could go on–and probably will in future posts.
So, you can imagine my dismay when, after lighting our first Advent candle at dinner tonight, I discovered my son has very little regard for metaphor. “Light?” he smirked after reading a passage from Isaiah. “They had light every morning. What is the big deal about light and darkness ? And why is darkness so bad anyway. I like darkness.”
This wasn’t a matter of him not understanding symbolism. He does. But he dissed the whole enterprise. Every time I tried to toss him a metaphorical bone, he tossed it back. I am so flummoxed I can’t even think of what this is like. It is worse than bone tossing.
We’ll be lighting that candle again tomorrow night. He can’t argue or snark himself out of hidden or revealed meanings this time of year. After all, there is a reason he won’t know what his presents are until Christmas morning. They are living in a land of great darkness and light won’t shine on them until…oh, snap!