Hey, in Germany they call it the second Christmas Day, so what the hey. I thought I’d drop a little note. So, there’s a phrase in the Judeo-Christian tradition that often gets translated as “the Fear of the Lord” as in “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” an understandable theological turn-off for many. After all, didn’t the angels show up in Bethlehem telling everyone to not be afraid? And isn’t there enough to be afraid of without making it a divine mandate? I should think so.
Interestingly, the original reads “Yirat Adonai,” much closer to an injunction for reverence, awe, and wonder, say, at the beauty and intricacy of the created order. It might be closer to what we experience in the face of what the Romantics called the sublime.
I recently watched a video of two spiritual directors discussing how the role of the spiritual director is different from the clergyman. Whereas the clergyman is communicating established truths and doctrine, a spiritual director’s job is to help us to be attentive to the God’s action in the moment, to pay attention to that which wants to become manifested in us.
One of the aspects of ourselves that changes as we continue on the contemplative path is our relationship to time, specifically psychological time. That is, our regret or nostalgia about the past and our hopes or anxieties about the future gradually dissolve more and more as we learn to truly attend to the present moment.
Growing up in a pastor’s family, it’s fair to say my spirituality has gone through several distinct phases. The first phase in childhood is connected mostly with place. The sense impressions and experience of the church building. The sounds, the look, the feel, the texture of the place. Not just songs and sermons, but the minute particulars – the curve of the piano, the verbal and non-verbal tics of the preachers, the musicians, and the congregants.
Later, in adolescence and early adulthood, the search for answers came to the fore. I wanted to understand how to reconcile the suffering in the world with a just God. And later, part of going to seminary was to set aside time to reconcile the belief system I was raised in with life as I experienced it, or at least to understand how they diverged.
As a kid, I waited a lot. With two older brothers, we’d all huddle around the Nintendo as my brothers passed the controller back and forth. My forays were unskillful and therefore brief. It would be a long time until another turn came around. During my late teens and early twenties, again I waited a lot – this time for trains and buses, the occasional airplane. In Frankfurt, I’d sit in the cold of a train station heading to school or basketball practice waiting, hands in pockets, listening to a mixtape, breath crystals forming in front of me.
Later, when I moved to the US, I would travel back home for Summers and Christmas, usually with one or two layovers from the West Coast back to Frankfurt. To travel is to wait. We wait in line for security, for the plane, for take-off, in customs, and even for the body itself to acclimate to the time change. Layovers extend the process. Strange then that this season of Advent and light is also one of waiting, which we so often associate with boredom and frustration, with unnecessary delay.