Campus might be the quietest place in the city this week. After all, it’s reading week. You know, that week when all the students get to read, catch up, cram, prepare, memorize, repeat, all for their final papers, tests, presentations or projects. I love this quiet. It’s solemn and serene and it’s a great way to wait, anticipate, and prepare in the spirit of Advent.
Reading week happens twice a year, but in the fall the quiet of reading week is particularly noticeable. Maybe it’s the cold weather that gives the students permission to bury themselves inside. In the spring, it’s hard to say no to a beautiful sunny day.
While I enjoy this quiet, I am quickly reminded that the pressures to succeed academically are so intense that students aren’t at all experiencing the quiet. In fact, it’s the busiest time of the year for them, and it’s loud and nervous and pregnant with anxiety.
I saw a video that reminded me of how insane this time of year can be. A large herd of students are gathered together processing into a building like a Black Friday crowd entering a shopping center. But on closer inspection it becomes clear that it’s not a Wal-Mart opening on the biggest sale day of the year, rather it’s the opening of the library at College of William and Mary.
Yes, hundreds of students heading to lay claim on some library property. Maybe they seek their favorite spot, a needed book, or a comfy chair and a room with a view.
The library occupation is like a semi-annual feast of knowledge. Jam in as much as possible and hope for the best. There is an attitude that is shared by many: Do whatever it takes to succeed. For some, the pressure is so much that they feel the need to use Adderall or other “neuroenhancing” drugs. This The New Yorker article describes this phenomenon well. The bottom line is that it’s intense and many are stressed.
It’s not hard to see that in this reading-week/finals craziness coupled with the outside world (off campus) going nuts from the month-long secular Christmas party, that Advent gets violently muted. There is simply no room for this season of waiting, anticipating, and preparing for Emmanuel.
There have been major attempts to direct attention to this beloved season, like the Advent Conspiracy, which was started by a few pastors in 2006 to bring attention to the season, but even the Advent conspirators are more focused on Christmas rather than focusing on the season of Advent.
So how do we wait, anticipate, and prepare in Advent when Bing Crosby is in our head and we have a “Gen Chem” final on Friday?
The bottom line is that it’s really hard to wait. It’s got to be one of the hardest things to do in life. Have you been to the DMV? Uncomfortable, annoying, and beneath us all to wait that long! Even with an iPhone loaded with Angry Birds, standing in line can be the worst! And anticipating is difficult because it’s about looking forward, and when we’re busy looking forward we miss today. And when you start preparing it doesn’t take long to realize that preparation seems more like a metaphor than a literal act, even though there are little things that can be done as we journey toward the light.
So maybe Advent is about tension, and maybe it’s our call to live in the midst that tension. It’s in this tension between darkness and light, quiet and loud, the already and not yet, and the unborn and the born that we find ourselves. And it’s when we find the solemn beauty of living in the quiet chaos when we are truly living out our Advent call.