The trouble with traditions is that after participating in them year after year it gets harder and harder to infuse them with new life and to create new interest in an old theme. So I was surprised just lately as we approach Advent to realize quite suddenly that advent and adventure came from the same root word, advenire in Latin which breaks down into ad “to” and venire “to come.” Not once in the last 60 years of seemingly conscious life had I ever put those two words together. Yet how exciting and delicious and adventuresome even it is to have a whole new way to look at Advent.
In the past I had mostly tried to keep the spiritual meaning of the season alive in the midst of the materialism that has taken it over, trying to concentrate on giving rather on the gift, and remembering the Christ Child who was born at the darkest season of the year. Now I have totally new avenues of thought to explore. In the church Advent is about anticipating, waiting four weeks for the birth of the Christ child, and preparing to receive him in our hearts. As the season turns to winter and the days get darker earlier and earlier, the birth of Jesus symbolizes the return of Light to the world in the great yearly cycle of the seasons. Now what does that have to do with adventure? Ummm….. I’ll have to think about that.
Adventure is a state of mind constantly seeking out something unusual, exciting or even perilous to do. It calls for enterprise and enthusiasm. Its attitude is one of searching for the new in the same old landscape. Its Latin root is adventurus “about to happen” which comes from the root advenire, the same root as Advent. There are physical adventures: scaling mountains, racing the rapids on rivers, crossing deserts and rain forests; mental adventures: solving mysteries, taking philosophical leaps in one’s thinking, entertaining new kinds of thoughts, and welcoming new peoples into our lives—those with different cultures, religions and customs; but perhaps most challenging of all are the spiritual adventures: loving an unseen God, giving one’s life in service, allowing the Holy Spirit to lead you down an unknown path, and dealing with the mysterious and unknowable. Now we’re talking about Advent. When the Holy Child comes into your life, that life is turned upside down with different priorities, new experiences, new direction and more.
The Christ Child is born, “born again,” into our lives when we are open to Him, and no one knows where being “born again” will take them. The biggest adventure of all lies in turning oneself over to the Holy Child and letting His Spirit take over your life. Sometimes, as with the disciples, it means leaving your profession and life behind, following the Lord, sitting at His feet and listening to His teachings, being sent out to preach and heal somewhat successfully, until, after his death and resurrection, they are totally transformed by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, able to speak another’s language and engage another in welcoming the Christ Child, too. There is also Paul’s conversion which was completed in three days—it totally transformed him from a critic of Jesus into a fiery spokesman in the early church. He had one adventure after another in traveling through the Roman world, in Corinth, Philipi, Rome, etc. He was almost shipwrecked, incarcerated and challenged by keeping the early church true to Jesus Christ. Talk about adventuresome!
It’s been over twenty-five years since I surrendered my life to God and His Son, twenty-five adventuresome years. I haven’t been jailed or almost shipwrecked, didn’t leave my family behind, and yet the Lord has led me into very venturesome avenues which have totally engaged my attention because they challenged me mightily, bit by bit as if in a program designed just for me, without my control. I’ve done some wild things, going twice to Haiti, first to gain perspective on what life is like in a “fifth world” country and then to work in an orphanage there for a month. Every day in Haiti was a personal challenge to me conquering fear—I was often the only white person on the street– living for a month in a society in which the violence could erupt at any minute, and dealing with my prejudices about blacks first hand. I had to work hard every day to try out the language, to walk to the street market by myself and buy things, or to travel by myself to Jacmel on the south shore. It would take me three or four days to get the courage to do any one of these things. In spite of my fears, however, the Haitian people were polite and almost indifferent to my presence, no one tried to steal my purse or packages and no one came close to harming me. What an adventure! I’ve never felt so personally challenged.
Other adventurous avenues have led me to speaking publicly about things I care about—my husband was the natural speaker, not me; needing to open my mind about how other people are and let go of my prejudices and impatience; losing my husband to cancer and death long before he was old. I could go on, but many of the transformations in me came over time in a less confronting way than the challenges in Haiti. Even of less importance are the challenges of dealing with the gradual aging process, the loss of physical prowess and strength and the many little complaints that come with aging.
Learning to love, also, has been a lifetime challenge, and I still have a lot to learn. Love is inclusive, all-encompassing, generous and belongs to everyone. I am still learning love’s lessons. There do seem to be so many internal changes we all need to make that we’re incapable of accomplishing, where we depend on the action of the Holy Spirit to make any progress at all.
That’s the mark of a human being, good intentions and needing the ministrations of the Holy Spirit to grow as a person. And that is the adventure. The Holy Spirit calls us away from the materialism and shallowness of our lives into wholeness, compassion, forgiving and true participation in the lives we are given.
The alternative is to stay in our egocentric view of the world, where even egotists are sometimes good and giving, but to accomplish the impossible—to transform us permanently– takes the miraculous workings of the Lord. We are impossible to heal and make whole through any human agency. It simply doesn’t work.
Enlist in the greatest adventure ever: give your life over to Christ and start living. In this darkest month of the year yield to the Light that illumines everyone and everything. Become a partner with God/Christ/Spirit in healing others, bringing them into the fold, expressing all that you are, fulfilling your true potential. Think outside the cultural, very human, box, don’t settle for less. In partnership with God only God knows where you are headed, but you will lead a fulfilling, dynamic, giving and adventuresome life.