I have a ridiculous collection of devotional aids (prayer books and beads, oracle cards, candles and incense, icons), but my sister gave me a book that’s at the top of my list again this Advent. Gayle Boss’ All Creation Waits has 25 meditations on how wild animals adapt to winter cold and darkness. Her descriptions are factual and insightful at the same time, and I look forward to learning about a new animal each morning.
Today, Emily and I read about the chickadee who must “continually eat during winter’s short daylight hours to stoke its fires for the long night to come…on a winter night [it] burns through all the calories it ate during the day.” In the summer, the chickadee hides seeds under tree bark or in log cracks, and the memory center of its brain actually grows in winter as it recalls all the hiding places.
Every winter day the equation of their existence is open: Will there be enough of what they need to take them through the dark night, into tomorrow? Beyond reason…they act as if the question is truly an opening, a freedom, a joy.
I love this—”the equation of their existence is open.” And who among us can claim differently? Every day, the equation of our existence is open. Even if we manage to trick ourselves by a stable job, hot water and electricity, relationships with family and friends, money in a bank account. Everything could change in an instant. This is really what the animals and the poor have to teach us—how to survive and even thrive when the fragility of our existence is laid bare, when we can’t depend on the weather or the world cooperating.
Kevin Kelly, in his essay, The Universe is Conspiring to Help Us, talks about hitchhiking and everything it taught him about living day to day, about giving and receiving. He says,
When I was in my 20s, I would hitchhike to work every day. I'd walk down three blocks to Route 22 in New Jersey, stick out my thumb and wait for a ride to work. Someone always picked me up, and I was never late. Each morning, I counted on the service of ordinary commuters who had lives full of their own worries and yet, without fail, at least one of them would do something generous, as if on schedule. As I stood there with my thumb outstretched, the only question in my mind was simply, "How will the miracle happen today?"…I have developed a belief about what happens in these moments and it goes like this: Kindness is like a breath. It can be squeezed out, or drawn in. To solicit a gift from a stranger takes a certain state of openness. If you are lost or ill, this is easy, but most days you are neither, so embracing extreme generosity takes some preparation. I learned to think of this as an exchange. During the moment the stranger offers his or her goodness, the person being aided offers degrees of humility, indebtedness, surprise, trust, delight, relief and amusement to the stranger.
Wow. Like the chickadee, like the trusting hitchhiker, how can we embrace “extreme generosity” this Advent? Though the equation of our existence is open, how can we let that uncertainty be a freedom, a joy?