Advent Week One {light heart}

Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life… Be alert at all times…{St. Luke}

chairToday’s reading, for the first week of Advent, gives us a neglected term. I’m trying to recall if I’ve ever used dissipation in a sentence. Dissipation is a hoary word referring to the ways we grasp and clinch rather than give,┬áthe ways we shovel life down our throat without stopping to savor. We dissipate our life, says Luke, by grabbing too much drink or by grabbing too much worry. Our society knows the ruin that comes from abusing alcohol. I don’t think we’ve even begun to grapple with the abuse of worry, anxiety and fear.

We can’t honestly tussle with this latter vice because in so many ways it is the fuel that turns the engines of our world. What would happen to the corporate apparatus if managers stopped worrying about promotions or being bettered by the younger class? How would our economy spiral if we stopped obsessively pouring over job data and consumer sentiment? What new terror might erupt if we didn’t live, second by second, on high alert? What tragedy will ravage our family if we don’t maintain acute vigilance?

The real danger to all this anxiety, this dissipation of any sort, is that it gives us a heavy heart. Our heart is meant to be light and free; and when we stuff our souls with anything other than love and freedom, goodness and joy, then our heart loses its vibrancy.

I’m given to anxiety. I can work a worry with the best of them. It’s an addiction, and I can surrender to cycles where I compulsively propose every possibility for relational, vocational or family ruin — just to be prepared, to ward off danger. The result, as you’d guess, is that life lived this way knows little joy, little laughter. What danger could I possibly avoid that would be worse than the danger I’m creating for myself by concocting such a confining, agitated life?

Advent is a time for watching, watching for God, staying alert to love, paying keen attention to those places where we’ve let our heart grow heavy. Disappointment, regret, shame, lethargy, willful selfishness – these things breed anxiety. They weigh us down. They shutter the eyes of our heart, and we walk in the dark, our soul heavy and blind.

Last week, I saw this discarded orange chair in front of a friend’s house. I imagined sinking into its broken-in cushions, resting on that corner and watching the neighborhood. Unhurried, unbothered. I would cradle a mammoth thermos of coffee with a few extra cups in case any passerby needed warmth. I’d have an 80’s boom box sitting on the ground playing Scottish bagpipe tunes or maybe Johnny Cash. I’d sit there, with open eyes and open heart, light and free. Advent.