The corn has been harvested. The remaining stalks gathered, bundled and taken away for some later days’ feeding. Still the cattle comb the field to eat whatever remnants remain. All the signs are present, winter is coming. Cattle understand this more than the people driving by who pay them little notice. It is a pattern of life woven into their DNA. A pattern that was once a part of our DNA but has since been replaced by Black Friday sales, Christmas trees and errands.
Cattle only live for the present day. Their day follows a basic cycle: move, eat, sleep, repeat. It is too naive to think their life is a mindless existence, but it is crazy to think it is complicated. Our lives are so much more important. Cattle are too ignorant to understand the importance of a 5th grade basketball game on a child’s psyche. Or, how important it is to draft the right player for a fantasy football team.
Anxiety builds within me by just spending a few minutes to observe the perceived idleness of cattle. There are phone calls to make, bills to approve, brochures to plan, a letter to send and once again, I’m late to Rotary. Unaware of my anxiety or even my existence the cattle eat peacefully.
Cattle do fight. They can be belligerent and ornery. Yet, I have never witnessed a cow stepping over another cow to purchase a Tickle Me Elmo. They have never stood in line for 8 hours to buy a piece of electronic equipment. A mother cow has never let her calf’s cry go unattended so she can get one more text message sent. Their life is simple. Yet, in the simplicity, they love and nurture those in need. Most importantly, they never lose sight of their dependence on each other for life and safety.
This Sunday, Jesus, in the Gospel of Luke, will tell us to look for signs, to be alert, to be on guard and prepare ourselves for the coming end. It is a traditional Advent theme that often goes unnoticed outside of sermons, Facebook posts or blogs generated by clergy. The importance of simplicity will be elevated, electronics demonized and the lack of Advent observation mourned. Sort of like what I am doing now.
However, I feel reality needs to be part of our spiritual life. If everyone in the United States lived in the simplicity most pastors promote the economy would collapse and unemployment would soar. The ethical challenges presented by electronics pale in comparison to the benefits they bring society. And no matter how much we complain, Advent will NEVER be a significant celebration. Not unless we can figure out a way to spend money on it or put an inflatable object in our front yard to promote it.
Our reality does not mean we should stop reading the spiritual signs. When families go into debt to purchase Christmas presents, it’s a sign. The recent Wal-Mart protest was not a pro-union vs anti-union argument, it was a sign. People do not want to be paid $8 an hour to be treated like crap and physically threatened so a customer can get $50 off a television. When your cell phone stands in the way of your communicating with your children, it is a sign. If your fantasy football team prevents you from eating meals with your family, it is a sign.
Anxiety is the common thread flowing through all of these signs. Do you long for anxiety or peace? And, if what you are doing is producing anxiety, why do you keep doing it? I don’t think Advent should be a yearning for a mythical reality, but a spiritual journey into the reality we find ourselves living.
Advent has been and will continue to be a choice. In the same way Jesus presents preparation as a choice. He tells us to be alert and be on guard, but he does so in the form of an invitation. Those who respond to the signs and prepare will know peace. Those who do not will be “weighed down with…the worries of this life.”
My Advent will be spent trying to focus on what I value most about life. Then searching for ways I can promote these values in my daily living. Not focusing on what I will do tomorrow, but how I will live today. Realizing that taking a picture of cattle is not a waste of time is the first step in this kind of spiritual journey. For 10 minutes I appreciated God’s creation. I invite you to join me on this spiritual journey. Then we, like cattle, might know what it is to eat in peace.