When I was 5 my family moved into an old farmhouse on a large patch of land, replete with a barn and lots of wildlife in the back lot. Unfortunately some of the wildlife had become comfortable inside the house, and it took a few years to fully rid ourselves of a mouse problem.
Just days before my brother was due, my mother opened a kitchen drawer out of which scampered a small dark mouse, which ran up her arm and off her shoulder, giving her (and my brother, in utero), the fright of a lifetime. Though my brother has matured into a perfectly normal young man, for years every childhood peculiarity was laughingly explained by this pre-birth shock.
So is it any wonder that John the Baptist, who nearly jumped out of his skin when his mother Elizabeth encountered Mary and Jesus, turned out a little weird? He ate bugs, looked like a wreck, and spent a lot of time shouting.
His lack of social graces may reveal his singlemindedness: he was intent on preparing the way of the Lord, and didn’t seem to care if he scandalized the neighbors in the process.
This time of year I can’t help but take a look at all the things that are keeping me so busy: writing, singing, conducting, teaching, running a small arts non-profit, visiting family and socializing with friends. Some days it feels like my life is a jumble of activities, until I step back and see the path of discipleship that these are all a part of. There is a through-line here, one that is universal in its objective and unique in its particular stops along the way. My path may not be straight, but it is trying to lay a flat course out in front of it, one that leads to love and justice.
The encounter with Jesus in the Holy Mass is what shook me first as a child, planting a devotion to the liturgical life of the Church at about the same time that mouse took a flying leap off my mother’s shoulder. In college I grew to love Scripture and exegesis, service and the pursuit of social justice. Each of these things hooked me and, in some ways, ruined me for life.
With each year that I spend pursuing God, I, like John the Baptist, get weirder. I am more committed to service and inclusion in my artistic pursuits, more intent on giving to the poor, more willing to appear “uncool” in speaking out against sexism, racism and materialism. And of course, I talk about God a lot.
As I become increasingly committed to my feeble attempts to make straight the path to Christ, I see ever more clearly the many ways that this may be done. I have found a calling in music and theology, but each individual, with their passions and skills, can point the way to heaven with whatever is in their toolkit.
So this Advent I am praying about paths, crooked and straight, those that we follow in discipleship and those that lead others to the incarnate Word, to the Love that sets our hearts on fire.