Have you noticed the newest warning in theaters these days? In addition to the reminders to turn off cell phones and cease conversation, moviegoers are also asked to stop text messaging during the film. It is probably "old-fogey-ness," but I confess to being stymied by the desire to send a text message during a movie. Is it really that hard to refrain from chatting for a couple of hours?
This may be hitting me more forcefully than usual because it is Advent. I love this season in a particular way for the sounds I associate with it, especially the music. For several years, I have attended a service of Lights, Lessons, and Carols at a nearby Jesuit university. It includes Scripture readings interspersed with song. The “lessons” are about Mary and her encounter with the angel Gabriel, the visit with her pregnant cousin, Elizabeth, and the starlit night of Jesus' birth. When we rise to sing carols like "Silent Night," I am moved beyond words by the beauty created by both mood and music. Is there any other time of year in which we harmonize so well?
A few years ago I directed a women's retreat on the power of words to either hurt or heal us. In the course of the retreat, I noted how advertisements, emails, and up-to-the-minute news batter us each day with words that don't matter. By some estimates, forty percent of our landfills contain cast-off words in the form of discarded magazines, newspapers, and junk mail. In the midst of it all, we long for a few words that matter. Thus we do well to pay close attention to the voice of the ancient prophet warning of the transitory nature of all life. “All flesh is grass… The grass withers, the flower wilts, but the word of our God stands forever.” (Isaiah 40:6, 8) During this sacred season, we wait in hushed anticipation for that Word which matters above all others.
The late Henri Nouwen wrote about the still, silent voice of God who speaks to us of blessing and hope. The words we thus need to hear arise from a place of deep silence and then, once heard, return there. There is no way to heed them if we are talking all the time. Listening in the way of Mary, we will find the words we most need nestled deep within our hearts.
At the end of the women’s retreat I posed a question: If each of us had only one more word to say, what would it be? The responses fit perfectly into Advent’s quiet beauty: peace, hope, joy, thanks, love, wonder, blessing. They reverberate in the songs we sing and the stories we tell - of holy nights and peace on earth, goodwill to all. If we do send someone a message - text or otherwise - perhaps we can, in the spirit of the season, keep it short, simple, and resonant with the sounds of this sacred season. Let it contain words that matter.
Use the readings for each week of Advent to help deepen your experience of this sacred season. Download activities to use in your home or parish as a way to break open the Word each week.