As I was preparing to write the reflection, I realized that, by chance, I had also written for the first Sunday of Advent for this Rise Up series last year.
The contrasts are dramatic. Last year, I entered Advent in a swirl of external chaos and commitment—from the travel and busyness of fall into the realities of December with four children…Christmas concerts, church choir practices, Advent programs, service projects, gatherings with family and friends, the standard early winter colds and fevers, and the general preparation for the holiday season.
This year, as Advent begins in the 10th month pandemic and of virtual work, a return for my children to virtual school, and almost all of the above activities canceled for the year (including the colds and fevers this fall—masks at work!), I’m finding myself less in last year’s “peace be within you!” space and more in the space of “Be watchful! Be alert!” in yesterday’s Gospel.
Don’t get me wrong. I still need peace within. The world is in chaos and the feelings of helplessness are very real in the face of the challenges we are facing as a global community.
But I certainly am feeling the reality of watching and being alert during this season that this year is unnaturally internally-focused and insular. Watchful for any opportunity to be as I am called to be in the world, in a reality that demands more isolation and remove from tangible community than I could have fathomed. Watchful for chances to alleviate for my neighbor, whoever they may be, the loneliness, hunger, grief, and anxiety that are so much more evident this year as covid-19 cases climb and we retreat more deeply into our own homes yet again. Watchful for digital spaces that provide small ways for us to work together for justice. Watchful for any opportunity to reclaim, again and again, who we are as a people of faith who hear and follow the call of the Gospel—that we may not be “found sleeping” in the moment when we are called.
Kelly Swan has served as communications director for the Ignatian Solidarity Network since 2016. She grew up in West Virginia and is a graduate of Wheeling Jesuit University. Kelly has worked in parish social ministry, child and family advocacy, community education and organizing, and publishing. She lives in the Cleveland, Ohio area with her children.