The Joy of the Hunt: An Advent Reflection

Every Fall, my great-uncle Larry would spend hours out in the woods hunting, but my great-aunt couldn’t recall a time when he actually brought home a deer. I used to wonder how he rose early in the morning, year after year, without getting discouraged. Why was my uncle drawn to an activity of seemingly fruitless looking and waiting – without anything to show for it?

We are told that Advent is a season of waiting. Each year we await the coming of Christmas by listening to the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah and New Testament allusions to His mysterious second coming at the end of time. This liturgical anticipation is a wonderful thing to enter into, but if we were to understand the waiting of Advent as a mere ticking down of the clock toward a fulfillment in the future, whether it be Christmas day or the mysterious Second Coming, I think we would be missing an important spiritual insight of the season.   Why then, does the Church ask us to hurry up and wait, year after year?

The waiting practiced during Advent isn’t simply an ascetical delay of gratification, nor a preoccupation with future events. In fact, it is precisely the opposite. After all, the primary implication of the incarnation is that God is wedded to creation and is already with us right now. We are engulfed by his activity at every moment.

When I was in college, I once accompanied some friends on their weekend hunting trip deep into the Maine woods. I had no experience with a gun, so I took along my camera. We wandered the woods for hours, attentive to the slightest of noises or irregular shapes in the brush. After some time, your senses become aligned with the surrounding environment; a truly incredible experience while it lasts. Like my uncle Larry, we came home without any meat; or in my case, without that prize photograph. None of us were really that disappointed though, for there was plenty of beauty to be seen in our wanderings that weekend.

In a similar way, our spiritual senses need to be liberated from all the distractions and anxieties that are obstacles to awareness of the presence of God. Waiting is about awareness of what already is here. How sad it is that we so often go about our busy lives completely oblivious to God’s activity in our midst!

So how do we, spiritual hunters, tune our spiritual senses to better perceive God’s activity in the present moment? We can pray. By prayer, I don’t mean just saying stuff to God, but by going to our inner room of our hearts and listening for God’s Word.  This is not an easy thing to do in our noisy world. Sometimes I find it helpful to repeat a phrase from Scripture or meditate on the mysteries of the rosary. Other times I go for a walk or sit and… do nothing. It’s amazing how some of the most fruitful moments of prayer have come from…doing nothing. The silence can make us uncomfortable and distractions abound, but if we give it time, we will find that God was there all along, waiting for us.

God can also be encountered in each person that crosses our path, friend or foe. To recognize God in the other we need the courage to forgive, see without prejudice, listen without judgment, to walk two miles with them instead of the one we were planning. That’s not easy thing to do, but probably necessary if we want to cultivate an awareness of God.

We can see God at work in the rest of creation as well, from the atmosphere that enfolds us to the smallest of insects. The psalmist tells us that all of creation gives glory to God. By treating every created thing not simply as a means to an end, but as something good in and of itself, we might be surprised by what God will reveal to us.

Photo by Bob Decker

As we observe the season of Advent and await the celebration of Christmas, let us work on our attentiveness to the here and now, lest we miss any of the wonderful graces that God continually pours forth upon us. In her wisdom, the Church asks us to cultivate this awareness in what has become one of the busiest and most distracting times of year.

So why did my uncle, that unsuccessful hunter, look forward going out early in the mornings each Fall? Perhaps he discovered that the real joy was to be found in the hunt itself. May we spend this Advent as hunters of the Spirit, attuning our senses to notice the activity of God that surrounds us in every moment.