The PSR community shares what gives them hope for the new year in this month's Progressive Voices of Faith!
X

Advent: A Season of Learning to Wait: A Reflection by PSR Dean Dr. Susan Abraham

We are all bad at waiting. We may think we are good at waiting, but that often means we’re good at deferring our immediate desire for satisfaction. We expect a ‘reward’ for waiting. Moreover, our time has become commodified. Time is money, and our time is ‘wasted’ when others keep us waiting. Waiting can feel offensive precisely because it is a threat to our supposed freedom. 

The season of Advent shakes up these ways of thinking about waiting. It can teach us to be mystics: to wait without expectation, to wait with unknowing. 

Unknowing is one reason waiting is so difficult for many of us. What will happen and when? Will it be a happy, sad, surprising, or terrifying experience when it arrives? Contemporary life, fueled by the capitalist expectation that our every desire will be met by someone selling what we want or desire, doesn’t foster the conditions for waiting in unknowing.  

During Advent, Christian children are taught that they’re waiting for the birth of Jesus Christ. Perversely, it is often Christian capitalism’s promise of a ‘reward’ for good behavior that they await. We reward ourselves for God coming to be with us! This is obscene Christian supremacism, contrary to Christian theology’s faith that the coming of Christ had to do with human frailty and suffering. In the mystery of the incarnation, we dimly grasp that as Jesus is born, the world is reborn. 

Of all the seasons of the liturgical year, Advent shows us that as the dark days of winter approach, we can step into ways of unknowing that are critical for our spiritual lives. Our bias for dualistic thinking prizes light over dark, knowing over unknowing. Mystics, however, embrace darkness because it is the best condition to undo knowing. 

The word “advent” comes from the Latin word for “coming.” It connotes expectation — of newness, of birth. Its theological meaning, however, is rooted in the realization that our frail human selves need divine assistance and accompaniment. Christians rejoice at Christ’s birth because it is the sign that God is with us—Emmanuel. It is a sign that we are not abandoned despite our frailty and suffering.  

Christ’s coming, in the form of a Palestinian Jewish child, is meant to surprise; uncomfortably. We’re used to cozy Christmas card images of a golden-haired white baby beatifically smiling at us from a manger. Instead, Advent teaches us that God will take on a form that may be completely contrary to our expectations or understanding. We will come undone by God’s unimaginable generosity to come in the body of a human child in our time and place, now transformed as the birthplace of God.  

Would that we wait for the Christ child. Would that we recognize, in surprise, the Christ child’s face in the poorest and most persecuted of people. Would that our surprise challenge us to look beyond our narrow desires. Would that such undoing break open our hearts, to seek in the devastation of war, poverty, oppression, and environmental collapse, a tiny baby who will save us by awakening our mercy and humanity. Would that the false light of our mundane certitudes be snuffed out as Christmas draws us into the darkness of the womb of God. Would that we wait; humbly. 

Dr. Susan Abraham is Professor of Theology and Postcolonial Cultures, VP of Academic Affairs, and Dean of Faculty at Pacific School of Religion. She is the author of Identity, Ethics, and Nonviolence in Postcolonial Theory: A Rahnerian Theological Assessment (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), co-editor of Shoulder to Shoulder: Frontiers in Catholic Feminist Theology (Fortress, 2009), Blessed are Those Who Mourn: Depression, Anxiety, and Pain on the Path of an Incarnational Spirituality (Marymount Press, 2020) and numerous essays and articles in anthologies of contemporary theology and peer-reviewed journals. She is also the President of the Board of Editors of Concilium: An International Journal of Theology. In 2023 she was elected to the presidential line of the Catholic Theological Society of America and will serve as president of the CTSA in 2025. 

Read Dean Abraham’s call to defy Christian capitalism and nationalism from PSR’s 156th Commencement on May 21, 2023.

Share this: