I woke up at 3:30 this morning and couldn’t go back to sleep. I found myself thinking about the church my husband, James, just retired from. We worked for 10+ hard years to turn that church to face the future instead of the past, with some success. But other voices, voices from those trained in the corporate business model, took the lead at the end and have drowned out the still, small voice of God with their push to “balance the budget,” “get things done,” “NOW!” God is not in the mighty wind. God is not in the earthquake. God is not in the fire. God is in the whispers of possibility that take a fearless ear to hear.
Today marks the first Sunday of Advent in the Christian liturgical year. I sat with my coffee, looking out at the still-dark northern morning where an early snow is melting after a night of “mixed precipitation,” weather-speak for 38℉ yuck. Not pretty. I’m glad I’m lucky enough to welcome Advent from behind a window in a warm-enough house, with a cup of coffee in my hand.
Advent isn’t for getting things done. Advent is for getting up in the dark to snowmelt dripping off the eaves. It’s for putting the dog out and then forgetting she’s out there because you’re writing about 38℉ yuck which has, unbeknownst to you, turned into cold rain. It’s for suddenly remembering the dog and bringing her in to lie behind you near the space heater, radiating wet dog smell and making that stomach-turning sound of licking herself. Double yuck. Maybe triple.
Unbeknownst. That’s Advent. James and I are in the midst of the unbeknownst. This is a small city—or a big town, which is how it feels to us after living in Cleveland and Tucson—so it’s hard to be really retired here when we frequently run into church people at the grocery store and post office. Should we move? Where should we move? Can we afford to move? What is this new diminished income going to manifest as we settle into it?
Yesterday morning, when I woke up early (before going back to sleep, unlike today—it wasn’t the first Sunday of Advent), I did some math in my head and compared James’s retirement pension of ≈$28,000/yr with what other people with 40 years of full-time, professional employment and a doctorate might bring in. We’ve always lived small. We’ll just have to live a little smaller now. And I’ll keep pulling myself out of the darkness of comparing our circumstances with those of former members of our churches.
We’ve been calling this the Year of Beholding, the year of figuring out what retirement means for us. Typing the word “unbeknownst” made me wonder if that wouldn’t be a better word for me: the Year of Beknowing. I like to find new words to help me move in new ways. To have form follow function opens up my mind—I’m not limited to thoughts that fit available language. My thoughts can shape my language, rather than language shaping my thoughts.
This at least is the Season of Beknowing. For the next 22 days I’ll peregrinate (a perfect word already in existence) through the north country Advent darkness finding language for my thoughts about what is to come. I trust I’ll find the star in the wheelbarrow, making my way to Bethlehem.