Advent 1: I Spy with My Little Eye

By Jan Richardson

Waiting for the Revealing © Jan Richardson

Lection from the Epistles, Advent 1, Year B: 1 Corinthians 1.3-9

Thanksgiving week has found me hanging out with my family, for whom this holiday is a big reunion time. For the past few days I’ve had a makeshift studio set up on my parents’ kitchen table, where I’ve been creating collages in between the fortifying feasts that we’ve enjoyed. Being in a slightly less solitary space than my studio at home, the kitchen table studio has afforded a few opportunities to receive feedback on the work that’s been taking shape there. As I was working on the collage for this reflection, one family member looked at it and said, “A prayer rug!” Another, upon seeing the completed collage, mentioned Venetian blinds. Now I cannot look at the collage without thinking of either of these things.

Hearing what others notice in my artwork has provided a good reminder of what a multivalent and revelatory process art is. As an artist, I live with an awareness that each image I create reveals something about who I am, including some things that I may not necessarily intend for my work to reveal. The ways that I see, the experiences and stories that I carry, my skills as well as my shortcomings, my creative vision as well as my blind spots: all these aspects and more enter into the artistic process, entwining themselves with my work and giving form to it. I’ve found that it’s best not to fixate too much on what might become revealed in the process, otherwise I would never be able to send any of my work into the world.

Beyond my own artwork, I find myself fascinated by exploring the revelatory creative process with others. When I’m engaging folks in an artful mode in a retreat or workshop, one of the things I love to do is take them through a form of lectio divina with a piece of art they have created, most often a paper collage. Artwork, after all, can be a sacred text, no less so for being nonverbal. As with written texts, doing lectio with a piece of art—our own or someone else’s—invites us to notice the connections between the image and our own life, and to meet God within those connections. Call it collagio divina, perhaps. After I’ve invited participants to reflect on their work and what it reveals about their own story, I sometimes invite them to reflect on one another’s collages and to share what they see—what they read—in those visual texts. Seeing the collage from within their own story, the viewer has her own reading, his own perspective. Hearing these responses from others often deepens the creator’s experience of their own work. It also reveals something about the one who sees.

In much the same way that a piece of art reveals something about the artist, what others see in that work reveals something about their own selves. What we see, and how we see, tells about who we are, what has formed us, what experiences we carry, what texts—sacred and otherwise—we harbor within us. The revelatory quality of art—what it tells about the artist, what it tells about our own selves—can be both wondrous and threatening in the ways that it challenges and confronts us with our habits of seeing.

It’s Paul who has gotten me thinking about this business of revelation here at the outset of Advent. In the passage from 1 Corinthians that is today’s reading from the Epistles, revelation is Paul’s concern. In greeting the church at Corinth, Paul writes of the power of the spiritual gifts that sustain them as they wait for the revealing of Jesus Christ, who, Paul writes, “will strengthen you to the end.” The word that Paul uses for revealing is apokalypsis, from which we derive the word apocalypse. Though we most often use the word to refer to a destructive ending of momentous magnitude—namely, the end of the world—at its root, apocalypse simply means revelation: how God unhides Godself.

As with each of the readings this week, Paul’s words speak to the community’s longing for God to take form and be present in their lives. In concert with Jesus, who tells of how the Son of Man will come with power and glory; and with the writer of Isaiah, who challenged God to tear open the heavens and come down; and with the psalmist, who prayed for God’s face to shine upon him and his community, Paul reveals his desire to fully know and be known by God.

These texts that have ushered us into this first week of Advent are bracing, to say the least; they pose potent questions about how we will enter this season of expectation. These passages remind us that the season of Advent calls us not only to remember and celebrate Christ’s birth—his first coming—two millennia ago, but also to give attention to how we anticipate his second coming, an aspect that mainstream Christianity has had a far more difficult time talking about. How we respond to these texts and to this Advent invitation reveals something about who we are and how we see. Is the Christ for whom we wait, the Christ whom we anticipate, a Christ whom we see as vengeful, a deity who will dole out punishment when he comes? Or are we waiting and looking for a Christ who sees us as beloved, who desires to know us completely?

Each of these readings challenges us to consider what it is that we think of this God who wants to be intimately involved in our lives, this God who is working not only toward Apocalypse-with-a-capital-A, however that will look, but who also works within the daily apocalypses that accompany us. The God who often takes eons to bring about a particular result also works moment by moment, constantly revealing Godself, taking flesh and form in the daily unfolding of our lives. This God beckons us to perceive the ways the divine is at work and to respond even now.

In his greeting to the church at Corinth, Paul reminds them, and us, that there is work to do in the waiting. He writes of divisions that need healing, brokenness that needs mending, relationships that need tending, spiritual gifts that need fostering, wisdom that needs deepening. He calls this community to see what is important, to resist the behaviors that distract them from the real work at hand, and to give themselves to loving one another and the One whom we will one day see face to face, and know fully, even as we are now fully known (1 Cor. 13.12).

So what are we looking for in this season, and what does this reveal about us? How do we open our eyes to the possibility of seeing the Christ who is not merely waiting for an Apocalypse before he shows up but who is in our midst even now? How do we perceive this quotidian Christ who is already present in the everyday-ness of our lives, who comes in all manner of guises, who calls us to work even as we wait?

This is the Christ I pray to see, even as I sometimes resist the kind of knowing to which he calls me. Annie Dillard’s words that I shared at the beginning of this week still linger with me: What is it that I’m doing in seeking to see and know this Christ? Do I want to know and be known with such fullness, with such completeness? Do I really want to reveal that much of myself?

I look again at today’s collage and think, yes. Yes to that kind of knowing, that kind of seeing, that kind of seeking. With my face pressed to the prayer rug, with my searching eyes peeking out through the blinds, I pray to see the Christ who comes, and who is already here, revealing his presence in this and every season.

In all his guises, may we see him. Blessings.

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