It might have been dark and it might have been November, but there was a hint of change in the air, an inkling of spring? Of course, the mild moment was no more than a drop in the wind, a reduction in the chill factor, not a logical sign for hopefulness
In days in parish ministry, the first logical signs of hope, of the approach of spring, would appear before the first week in November had passed. “Bareroot whitethorn,” “bareroot laurel,” “bareroot beech,” would declare successive signs outside Dunne’s nursery on the main road through Durrow in Co Laois. Each year they would declare that winter would be passing and that the time had come to prepare for better days. There could be no better statement of the anticipation of warmer days than people spending actual money on actual plants in the expectation of actual growth.
In the church, the season of Advent was the liturgical equivalent of planting hedging. Advent was a special time for the great spiritual writer Thomas Merton. Here’s what he wrote about waiting and expectation in “Advent hope or delusion:”
“The certainty of Christian hope lies beyond passion and beyond knowledge. Therefore we must sometimes expect our hope to come in conflict with darkness, desperation and ignorance. Therefore, too, we must remember that Christian optimism is not a perpetual sense of euphoria, an indefectible comfort in whose presence neither anguish nor tragedy can possibly exist. We must not strive to maintain a climate of optimism by the mere suppression of tragic realities. Christian optimism lies in a hope of victory that transcends all tragedy: a victory in which we pass beyond tragedy to glory with Christ crucified and risen.”
Thomas Merton understood that were times when everyone went through dark times and reminded those who read his work that being Christian was not about having an easy life, but believing in a hope.
The season of Advent is about light coming into the darkness, it’s about the lives of ordinary people feeling brighter. The words of the Advent blessing say, “Christ the sun of righteousness shine upon you, gladden your hearts and scatter the darkness from before you.”
Dark days, whatever the time they occur, are not changed by words, nor by the hopes of some unrealised future, not even by the planting of hedging, as tangible an act as that is. Thomas Merton points to hope that is transcendent.