I live not far from a synagogue in Queens, New York and on the wall outside is a plaque, dedicated to Helen Keller. The legendary blind and deaf writer once lived in a house that stood on that spot. Sometimes I walk past and wonder whether the neighborhood has changed much since her day. I might close my eyes and imagine, for just a moment, what she felt, what she sensed, and what she feared.
It must have been terrifying. She couldn’t hear the cars, or the children on bicycles, or the stirring of the leaves in the wind. She wasn’t aware of the planes descending overhead, getting ready to land at the airport. She wouldn’t know if someone was approaching her – no footfall, no voices – and she didn’t even know if it was daylight. To her, it was always night.
Little wonder, then, that Helen Keller once famously summed up our existence with this simple proclamation: “Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” In her universe, every moment was an adventure. It had to be. Otherwise, she would have remained forever a prisoner of her senses.
Well, we get some idea of the daring that life involves as we begin the season of Advent.
Whether we realize it or not, we’re embarking on an adventure of our own. The name of this season, after all, shares the same root as “adventure” — from the Latin, adventus, meaning arrival. The arrival we await, of course, is the Messiah. And what an adventure that waiting will be.
It can be a challenge. These days, the nights grow longer. For many, the weather turns colder. We are as far as we can ever be from the sun. But we know in our bones and in our hearts that this darkness will not last. So we wait it out. We light candles. We trim trees. But there is so much to do, too! As the nights lengthen and the light dims, we shop, we wrap, we spend time in long lines at the post office and bear gifts for one another and attend parties where we drink too much egg nog and make too many promises we never manage to keep.
And we sing. O come, o come Emmanuel. When will we be ransomed? When will our Rescuer arrive?
“Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence.”
At the start of Advent, as we begin this adventure, we are striking out, stepping boldly into the dark. But we are not alone. We will encounter many other travelers along the way. A teenager will run to her cousin to announce a miracle. Later, she and her husband will travel toward a stable in a distant town. Wise men will set out to follow a star. What a journey! We may find ourselves disoriented at the turn the road takes.
But we remember this: life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.
And we feel certain we are heading in the right direction.
We take heart and take hope. We know there will again be light.
But for now, we wait. Advent is a time of perpetual anticipation. Dorothy Day once compared this season of expectation to pregnancy; it is like a mother waiting to give birth. She was a mother, and she understood that analogy well.
But I keep going back to her contemporary, Helen Keller — who once wrote something that makes me wonder if Dorothy Day had it backwards.
As Keller wrote, in a very different context: “Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence.” Could it be that the power of this season lies not in waiting to give birth, but in waiting to be born?
Perhaps we are the ones who are in the womb, in darkness and silence, waiting – in every sense — to be delivered.
Either way, I think, this moment in time — this waiting, this anticipation, this expectancy, this Advent — is a daring adventure.
And it is not nothing — in fact, it is everything.
Let’s get started.
— From The Living Gospel: Daily Devotions for Advent 2018 (Ave Maria Press)
Photo: by JLS Photography / Alaska / Creative Commons license