Dear fellow pilgrims,
This Advent for me has been quite active. Well… about as active as a very pregnant woman can be. Right now I’m about eight and a half months pregnant, and my favorite activity for the past few months has been “nesting,” getting my apartment clean and organized and ready for baby boy #2. I’ve been trying to connect that idea to “nesting” in my soul for the coming of baby Jesus, cleaning out the dusty places of my heart, organizing the clutter that has been keeping me occupied and worried instead of open and generous.
The first time I was pregnant, just two years ago, I had a similar focus about “making space” for the coming of Jesus. My Advent was so powerful, deep, and contemplative. I had time and much fewer interruptions, so it seems, to enter into quiet prayer and think deeply about the mystery occurring in my womb. Now, being pregnant during Advent for a second time with my first baby boy now a curious and active toddler… things are a little different. I have things to do, people! Like waddle around taking care of a little toddler while making sure I catch my breath and my beachball-sized belly doesn’t hit any corners. And vacuum. Everywhere.
Today, when I was vacuuming the always-dirty dining room area, Leo (our toddler) was being less than helpful. I was getting pretty frustrated with how it was taking forever to clean up his mess from lunch, and I began to lament interiorly about how cleaning up messes will be a job I will do as a mother pretty much all my life. I began to think about the repetitiveness of cleaning up as a rhythm of life on this earth, as a consequence of original sin. Because dust is just a bunch of dead particles, and basically any other activity having to do with cleaning (showering – sloughing off our own dead skin cells) also can tie into consequences of original sin in our earthly lives. My contemplation ended around being grateful that one day in Heaven, I won’t have to clean up anymore. I can just hear the choir of moms in Heaven rejoicing now…
When I took a little more time to calm down, I realized it was around Leo’s nap time, and he was probably fussy because he needed something and not because he wanted to ruin my plans to clean up our apartment. As I walked and pushed his stroller while he drifted off to sleep, the Lord met me again to continue this “dirt, sin, and nesting” contemplation. I read the Psalm for today on my phone:
“R. Let the Lord enter; he is the king of glory.
Who can ascend the mountain of the LORD?
or who may stand in his holy place?
He whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean,
who desires not what is vain.”
I saw myself fervently cleaning, rearranging, dusting, organizing the things cluttering my heart. Check, check, check. Yes, I totally was following this Psalm. My plans for Advent were being executed well. Martha-heart, engaged and satisfied. But then I read it again and the refrain stood out: “Let the Lord enter.”
My mental image changed. I saw myself for what this process really was: me trying to make my heart clean in the way I thought Jesus wanted it to be, keeping my hands tied against sin in the way I think He wants me to, to keep my desires away from things that I think are in vain. I wasn’t really letting or inviting the Lord to enter into these things at all.
Turns out, it had been much too long since I had truly invited the Lord to enter into all of my preparation, and He was only “there” because I trusted my own plans were following His “orders” more than I wanted Him to be intimately involved with them.
I thought the result He wanted was just a clean place for Him to reside, not that He actually wanted to help me clean, and have that process be as much of a purpose as the end result. But again, even thinking in terms of an “end result” is faulty, because of original sin, we will be fighting this inner battle all our lives.
My heart softened. I teared up. What a Mary/Martha moment… Jesus doesn’t want me to just produce my own clean heart, my own interior life, He wants to help me in the process of cleaning. I need to allow the Lord to enter. He wants to be there in the mess, in my mess, showing me where to go next, what to do in order to make my heart ready for Him to reside comfortably and happily within me. I pictured myself frustrated with my progress, but having Him take my hand gently and helping me begin again.
How much better are His ways than ours! Sometimes the transformation we so desperately long for – or the transformation we tacitly deny because we are too into our own plans – is just a simple invitation away:
“Lord, please enter into my mess. Show me what to do.”
One great truth of Advent is that Jesus entered into our earthly mess. Our collective, awful, dirty mess of a world stricken by sin and wandering from God. And He’s not afraid of it, He’s drawn to it. The way He loves us is being in the mess with us, taking on our flesh without taking on our mess. He teaches us how to be in the mess of life without becoming a mess… or messier than before. And because He is the Way, He must be in our processes. We must invite Him in without being ashamed of our mess. And many times, the mess we so desperately need to clean is the one most invisible to us, in the darkest corner of our hearts. We must invite Him in to reveal us to ourselves.
As we anticipate Christmas, let us be reminded that Jesus arrived into this world in a dark, messy – and unsanitary – cave. There are many quaint and pretty ways to visualize and portray the Nativity scene, but let’s ask the Holy Family to reveal to us the more unsavory elements of the Christmas story. Let us meditate on the reality of the Nativity scene. (As a pregnant woman, thinking about farm animals rolling around in the dirt while Mary labors and gives birth is enough mess to think about.) Let us enter into their mess so we can better grasp the truth of the Incarnation, how it completely overwhelms and transforms the mess of humanity into a proclamation of the endless merciful love of God for humanity.