It is Advent again, I love Advent because of
the weather, the darkness, the relative
peace of early December as the year winds
I like evenings and my little traditions and
customs, vodka martinis and the smell of pot
roast on Sundays.
Christmas is different, too scripted, I do
not put up a tree, I will have a wreath, and
I do like little lights and the bright they
make when I put them in Waterford dishes
that belonged to my mother and aunt.
Advent evokes thoughts and memories, and
Advent is kind of personal or solitary,
whereas Christmas is all over the place, it
can be noisy and very sad for some although
those sadnesses soften with time.
I think Christmas has become too much, it
used to have a kind of singular significance
that gave shape to the whole rest of the
year, at least as I remember it.
I doubt if Christmas is such a big thing for
kids anymore, given that they have such busy
schedules to keep their parents from not
thinking about what to do next, they have so
many deadlines and dates and schedules to
meet that, maybe, Christmas is just another
thing out of the way for that week.
An awful lot of what I have read this past
month makes me ask questions about “time.”
Is “time” real or is it an artificial
construction that we use? Where does “time”
go when it becomes memory or regret?
Certainly, days and weeks and months and
years are arbitrary, at least the names and
numbers we give them are, but is there
really something such as a day or a year?
I am writing this two weeks before you will
read it because of printing deadlines and
yesterday was, Friday, November 22.
I never gave a second thought to the fact
that it was November 22, but in my history
and many of your histories, November 22 was
a benchmark of our young adulthood.
So, I think does that day or any day have
any significance apart from my memory. Does
what happen on any day exist apart from our
If we all forget it, does that mean that day
didn’t matter or even, didn’t happen?
One of the poets that I have come to value
very much is John Koethe, he is my age, now
retired from UW Milwaukee. His collection,
Ninety-fifth Street published in 2009
is in part his look back at his life as he
anticipates the final descent before the
I have rented an apartment several times on
95th Street in Manhattan, and
that in itself attracted me to his poetry in
this collection, a further coincidence was
one of the times I rented it was when Father
Dettmner had the stroke that essentially
ended his wonderful life and I remember him
and aspects of his life clearly.
In his poem, Ninety-fifth Street, he
looks back on his early young adult life,
the heady and high days of the first years
after college when he was beginning his
literary career and to a specific party in
an apartment on 95th Street that
belonged to Frank O’Hara, a poet and art
critic and very interesting person and the
organizing center of much life for poets and
writers and artists in New York in the
Koethe was one of the youngest at the party
among others including the young John
Ashbery and Koethe remembers in this poem
among others bits of conversation, martinis
mixed, stuff that were simply unimportant at
the time but would prove to be crucial or
beloved anecdotes to his story as he gives
summary to his life.
I think all of us look back on moments, that
have come to matter far more than they
appeared to when they first happened,
certainly those of you who are married do,
the chance encounter that lead to the rest
of your life, one way or another, for better
It makes me sad to read some of Koethe’s
poems, really sad, because John Koethe like
many other poets can only believe that the
past is irrevocably, the past, and as
memories fade and the rememberers die, the
past goes with them.
You must know by now that I am not one who
entertains thoughts of heavenly reunions and
celestial gatherings but is there something
intelligently other as an option to the
significance of our experiences than simply
There is no evidence in the biblical text of
uninterrupted continuity between life and
death as is very common in the actual belief
We hear grieving loved ones tell of the
newly deceased reuniting with a whole host
of others who have died before them and I
understand what they mean and I would never
contradict the person in the moment but love
is always love.
The task is to allow grief to teach us more
than we know about love not foreclose on the
grief with a reunion because there has been
no parting, at least as I believe but there
needs to be the grief and that is the rub.
No one wants grief and there are no teachers
about grief because every grief is
different, grief teaches a solitary lesson.
The kind of life death/continuity to avoid
grief would cheapen life in this world
because somehow the real world of “heaven”
awaits. This is the real world and death and
grief and love and life happen here.
Jesus grieves, Mary grieves, Mary Magdalene
grieves. Grief is real for all who love.
There is resurrection in the New Testament
but those stories that talk about
resurrection make it crystal clear that
Jesus is not recognizable, all is different
than pure humanity. In addition to not being
able to be recognized, he can walk through
locked doors, vanish from their sight, and
make hearts burn, he is not at all who he
The point of Advent, aside from my liking
it, is to annually prepare us in a
methodical manner to consider the feast of
Christmas and the conviction behind that
feast that whoever it is that we call “God’
has become assessible to us in Jesus Christ
who lived and died and left stories to be
told in a specific place and time and in the
specific people that we call the Jews.
Now, of course, that is not what is likely
to be what happens this December 25, nor has
it been since very early in what we call the
history of Christianity.
Christianity has operated in multiple
systems and a plurality of places
overflowing with all kinds of assumptions
for generations upon generations, so much so
that for most of us there is no real choice
made about the claim at the heart of the
We just do it and if we still do it, we
probably do in some fashion what our
ancestors did because they did what their
ancestors did which has more to do with
decorations and menus than with Christ and
what that might mean today.
Otherwise, we eat Chinese and we go to the
So back to time and Advent and what that
might have to do with us, my faith is what I
try to do, it is not just an intellectual
experience, I will marry and bury and
baptize as long as people present themselves
to be married or buried or baptized. I am
not always sure what is going on, but
something is, and I believe that it is good.
I will continue to ask children, “What do
you want to ask God to bless our world with
I believe that the mystery that gets filed
under “Christ” is still a source of hope not
so much for my individual life after death
but a worthwhile conviction disclosed in the
Gospels that allows for the happiness of so
many, many persons that have suffered and
will suffer such arbitrary and capricious
pain on this earth that is so good to me.
I do not believe that our ordinary
consciousness will ever resolve the
questions of time and where it goes and what
happens when we die, answers will ebb and
flow, and arbitrary suffering will often
appear to have the final word.
At the same time, day in and day out, people
are creating relationships that nurture and
exchange love in ordinary and extraordinary
ways that heal and try to make whole what is
broken and bent, no matter the cost.
Why do we do that?
In the Book of Revelation, the last section
of the New Testament, a work that requires
caution in interpreting, there is a highly
poetic sequence when the “one sitting on the
throne”-Christ- says, “Behold, I will make
all things new.”
I believe that this gives voice to the
reality of the evolution of the spiritual
dimensions of created reality and that as in
the evolution of the material, all things
are temporary and all things die and decay
but all things give birth to new forms, new
I believe that we do not know all things
yet, that there is still much to be
discovered or recovered.