Advent is a season of waiting and preparing. Faith is about the eyes we use to view the world. Think about how you see the world differently while you are waiting and preparing. For me, my eyes are full of hope.
The Temple of Heaven Park in Beijing is full of people doing ordinary things like Tai Chi and Tibetan Dance. At least they seem ordinary to the people doing them. To me, it seems odd and beautiful that so many people are moving slowly, intentionally together in public. In the middle of the park, an old man practices calligraphy. Bright white hair peeks out from underneath his dark baseball hat. He wets a long paintbrush with water from a bucket, hunches over slightly, and writes on the pavement. Every few characters he pauses, referring to a poem he is holding in his left hand. The graceful symbols evaporate in just a few moments. He repeats the same lines over and over and over again. Slowly, mindfully. Dip, stroke, stroke, stroke, dip. His writing hand moves like he is conducting an orchestra in an underground pit. I look out across the expanse of pavement and see years of art, layers of words encased there. Whispering to us about life and death and love and heartache. The poem waits briefly to be discovered before it fades in the afternoon sun.
The fleetingness of the water, the holy detachment of his practice has something to teach me. I know it in my bones. I can’t take my eyes off him, dipping and stroking as if he had all the time in the world. I watch the Chinese characters, hoping they stay a bit longer. I don’t want this moment to fade. But it does.
I am driven to use ink. To write my own words instead of basking in the wisdom of others. To make a mark, to be recognized for excellence. I want it to count. I want to count. I want to use permanent marker and oil paint. I want to be immortal, to stick, to go on.
But I could use water. I could go to the park today with a poem and a brush. I could choose to think, to stay alive, to treat others with compassion. I could practice being human in all its messiness and mortality. Hidden in plain sight before me is something on fire with sacredness. There is poetry trapped on the pavement at my feet. There is art evaporating all around me. I am held in the holiness of life. I simply have to choose to pay attention.
This Advent, as I wait for the Christ child, I am going to look for poetry in the pavement at my feet. I am going to use eyes of faith to see the art evaporating all around me. I am going to pay attention.