Advent Meditation I

“We know that the Jews were prohibited from investigating the future. The Torah and the prayers instruct them in remembrance, however. This stripped the future of its magic, to which all those succumb who turn to the soothsayers for enlightenment. This does not imply, however, that for the Jews the future turned into homogeneous, empty time. For every second of time was the strait gate through which Messiah might enter.”
—Walter Benjamin

This Advent, I have been thinking a lot about temporality, that is, the human relationship with time. Advent is that time in the church calendar that has traditionally been cast as a period of waiting for the Messiah – reliving both the historical waiting through the lens of the prophets, Mary, and John the Baptizer, as well as the current mode of waiting for the Messiah’s return. 

Abstract image of fractured gate in apocalyptic setting

Walter Benjamin, a German Jewish philosopher (1892-1940), argues strongly against the notion of history-as-progress, what he calls historical time. He notes that the Hebrew Bible forbade divinization or soothsaying as ways to investigate the future. This prohibition reshaped the Jewish notion of time, emptying it of possibility or meaning, rather “every second of time was the strait gate through which Messiah might enter.” 

This ‘Messianic time’ attunes the human to the world of possibility in each moment: that which did happen and that which didn’t. Advent, when lived out in Messianic time, is an active state of waiting for those out-of-time moments of possibility that are freed from the homogenous, empty time shaped by hegemonic modes of history. These transcendent moments exist only in fragments, chips of Messianic time, freed by artists or revolutionaries.

This Advent may we awaken
to these fragments of Messianic time,
May we be the artists and the revolutionaries,
May our waiting be active, not passive,
In spirit, mind, and body.