In my experience, a typical Walmart has 15 or more checkout stands. At any given moment, only one and a half are staffed by personnel. We do not know why this is so. It is the Walmart Way. Walmart owns rural America; we do not question the Walmart Way.
Many of us lately have been trained to wait in much smaller lines, where we scan our own purchased items. I have learned to enjoy this. It suits me better than passively watching someone else do the same. There is a sense of accomplishment! A former bishop once said that he received the deepest satisfaction from polishing his shoes. It gave him a small, but needed, sense of accomplishment in a profession where finality is illusive.
Indeed I only chafe if a machine malfunctions and no assistance can be summoned. Or when a mother lets her 4-year-old do the scanning because the little fumbler finds it fun. No judgment. If I had a 4-year-old, I am sure I would be looking for diversions as well.
I only recently learned that one can zap fruits and vegetables with the scanning wand, alleviating the need to scan a piece of produce over the glass counter, trying to outpace the machine as it announces, “Please place the items on the scale.” The wand is wonderful! It empowers me. I feel like I am in “Star Trek” while using it. Clearly there is still some of the 4-year-old in me.
I was scanning away when a woman, perhaps in her 20s, at the station next to me said, “Look, Father Klein. I’m ready for Advent. I’ve purchased three purple bath pods and a rose one.” She extended her hand, showing them to me.
I do not know what one does with a bath pod. I presume it is thrown in the water, where perhaps it is valued more for its scent than its color. I do know that some people use baths for sanctuary. I defaulted into the bland pastoral. “Yes, you are indeed ready, and Advent is just around the corner.”
“Don’t put me in one of your homilies, Father Klein. I just wanted to show you.”
It is alright, come this time of year, to think that you might indeed find joy, find a bit of peace and contentment.
Though I thought that our exchange would pass quickly from memory, her mentioning my homilies led me to respond with some reserve. “Well, I can make no promises.”
So here is the Advent homily. It is okay to hope. It is alright, come this time of year, to think that you might indeed find joy, find a bit of peace and contentment. That is, after all, what we believers mean when we use the word God. Not that God can be reduced to these things, or that God is not deeply a person. Just that, one of the ways that we know we have encountered God, have been graced, as we tend to say, is that we have known some joy, peace and contentment.
Advent is a season that we Christians celebrate surreptitiously. It is four weeks hidden within what our consumer society calls “the holiday season.” The holidays always make suckers of us. They promise so much and almost never deliver. We are to believe that the season would have been happy but we failed to purchase the one thing needed. Perhaps a car, on sale during Toyota Time or Honda Holidays.
Advent is a quiet, hidden season. It tells us that it is okay to hope. Are you afraid to believe in God, because you are scared of what would happen if you were never to find God? Risk a little belief. It is okay to hope.
Don’t want to pray, because you are worried that no one is listening? Go ahead and try again. It is okay to hope.
Don’t want to pray, because you are worried that no one is listening? Go ahead and try again.
Don’t want to get your hopes up at any time about anyone or anything, because hope follows that universal rule: everything that goes up must come down? It is okay. Go ahead and hope.
Yes, your hopes might be frustrated, but that is better than trying to extinguish hope in God, in others and in life itself. Not hoping grinds against our grain, because we were created to hope. Hope is the first evidence, the first real experience that we have of God. Advent reminds us that hope runs deeper than our own humanity. Hope is of God.
Advent bath pods. Sounds silly. So does Advent. Yet the silly silence of Advent is how we must live if we are to be true to ourselves. Find the sacred, secret silence of Advent, soak it up and let it speak of simple hope.