December 5th: A Posse of Clever Maids

Put a candle in the window
‘Cause I feel I’ve got to move
I’m gone, gone…but I’ll be comin’ home soon
As long as I can see the light.

Today’s Advent playlist suggestion is one of my favorites from one of my favorite bands. Creedence Clearwater Revivals’ “Long As I Can See the Light” is an Advent tune if there ever was one.

If I were still a parish pastor, I’d probably cue this up to be sung, this Advent especially. The lyrics are evocative of that story of the wise maidens who keep their “lamps trimmed and burning” as the spiritual goes. Those maidens aren’t just waiting in a general way; they’re waiting with expectation.

Waiting with expectation means, I think, knowing that something is going to happen…even if you don’t know what it is. You’re prepped to receive whatever comes your way. It harkens back to yesterday’s post about a kind of hope that doesn’t cling to a specific outcome, and yet knows that good can be made of whatever outcome produces itself.

As I walk through my neighborhood on these darkening days I’m seeing so many houses with candles in every window. It’s an ancient practice, you know. It comes from those days when travelers would journey deep into the night, and a light in the window meant the house was safe to stop in for food or a bed.

The candle in the window was a signal of safe harbor, even if you didn’t know who might need it, when they might show up, or what was on the other side of the door.

I guess what I mean is that the candle in the window is a symbol of expectant waiting.

For Christians it’s a symbol of waiting for Christ to show up (though, if you trust the idea of the incarnation then Christ shows up in many and various ways again and again…we just miss it more often than not).

But even for those who don’t find themselves in a faith community, this kind of symbol of expectant waiting has some meaning, I think. After all, we’ve all been in the position of searching in the dark night of the soul, longing for some sort of harbor. The trick in such a circumstance is to keep going, of course. The metaphor of a night traveler is appropriate. If they stop, no candle will appear, so stepping one foot in front of the other until it does appear is necessary.

It’s necessary to keep going.

Advent is the time of the year where we practice this plodding gait. Where we practice both putting candles in our windows and keeping a look out for them, learning to see where the safe harbors are in the world, preparing our own beings to become safe harbors for those who need one.

Like maidens who know the bridal party can arrive at any moment, we become wise when we do this.

T. J. O’Gorman’s poem is appropriate for this day, and this song:

Face to face with our limits,
Blinking before the frightful
Stare of our frailty,
Promise rises
Like a posse of clever maids
Who do not fear the dark
Because their readiness
Lights the search.
Their oil
Becomes the measure of their love,
Their ability to wait–
An indication of their
Capacity to trust and take a chance.
Without the caution or predictability
Of knowing day or hour,
They fall back on that only
Of which they can be sure:
Love precedes them,
Before it
No door will ever close.

Oh, and give CCR’s “Long As I Can See the Light” a spot on your Advent playlist…

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