I listen halfheartedly to the dinner conversation as I roll warm purple wax between my fingers. Every time another stream of wax bursts down the side of the candle I daintily scoop it up and let it slide down my finger, mesmerized by the sight.
“Stop playing with the wax!” says my mother, suddenly realizing what I was doing.
“Sorry mom,” I mumble. I avert my eyes but I leave my finger resting on the candle.
When I think of the Advent of my childhood, I think of melted wax rolling down my finger. The texture of red construction paper. The glimmer of the rhinestones that my siblings and I put on red paper hearts every time we did a kind deed. The smell of homemade flour ornaments that we put on our Jesse tree.
Advent seemed so much simpler in my childhood. I am lucky to have those memories. They help me to reorient myself every Advent. Every year, I try to reach back into the past and relive the slow fuzzy caterpillar slide of childhood; that time of life when counting seconds and minutes was unthinkable.
Advent is about slowing down because waiting always slows us down, whether we like it or not.
Every time I get in line in the cafeteria at our convent, I am inevitably behind the sister who leisurely picks out her meal items with the meticulous care of a surgeon removing a spleen. For an impatient person like me, every second spent staring at a sister using metal tongs to inspect her food is hellish.
Time is now too valuable to be wasted. Perhaps I am more aware of my mortality. The very essence of adulthood seems to be about living anxiously, if relatively unconsciously, in the yawning abyss of imminent death.
Adults realize that we just don’t have time to waste.
And yet our refusal to waste time ensures that it speeds by. Every time we look in the mirror, there is another wrinkle. Youth slips away as fast as the years. The slow, molasses slide of childhood turns into a frantic race, much like a rivulet of wax bursting down the side of a candle.
In childhood time is leisurely. There is such an abundance of time that we never felt rushed. Our responsibilities were few. Our attention was short. Life was a long expanse of time stretching out before us and we had little reason not to live every moment as if we had a couple of billion more.
Advent reminds us that everything will come to an end at some point. My life will come to an end. Your life will come to an end. The world will come to an end. And Jesus will come again.
But the proper response to this truth is not the wisdom of adulthood that rushes through time like a businessperson perpetually late to work. The proper response is the wisdom of a child who savors every moment as if there were a billion more. Because, if we are headed in the right direction, there are a billion more, and a billion more, and a billion more—an infinity of seconds.
Advent reminds us to slow down now so that we can prepare ourselves to live the slow bliss of eternal happiness with Jesus.