We recently took our Advent/Christmas decorations down from the attic. The tree went up, we fought with the lights (as we always do), our two-year-old almost destroyed the ornaments, and we began the annual adventure of rediscovering what we actually have in the Advent/Christmas bins. One thing I knew that we had, however, was our home Advent wreath and candles.
Upon unwrapping the candles that we used last year, I noticed something was askew with them. And then it dawned on me that they had been in the attic. In the hot attic. All summer. Perhaps this was not the best place to store candles, but when the attic is nearly freezing when you put things away, the thought doesn’t cross one’s mind.
I had a good laugh, and I shared the photo and a lot of us had a good laugh at it, particularly when the candles are put into the holders in the wreath. It looks like Tim Burton, Edvard Munch, Salvador Dali, and Dr. Seuss designed an Advent wreath. It still makes me laugh. But as I look at it, I’m not sure that I want to replace the candles. The wreath is all messed up and I wonder if there is something in there.
I’m a perfectionist. I like things to be straight, clean, even, symmetrical. When I annotate books, I use a ruler to get straight lines, I spend almost as much time cutting things off of my tatting projects as I do tatting, so as to eliminate as many mistakes as possible. I spend far too much time editing my social media posts, trying to get them to perfect, eliminating errors, changing word order, clarifying my intent. I’m convinced that the ability to edit posts and comments was the worst thing for me because it is like an all-you-can-eat buffet for perfectionism.
Perfectionism isn’t really about the thing itself, but something deeper. The thing itself is simply a mirror in which I see myself — and i suspect I’m not alone here — whether it is realized or not. The crooked lines or asymmetry is simply a mirror that reflects my crooked and asymmetrical places. The parts that are not quite right, the parts that are askew, the parts that are wonky–and not in a charming kind of way but a way that deeply disturbs to the core.
But even beyond oneself, it reflects the imperfection and chaos of a world which is broken, a world which is not quite right, a world which is crooked and asymmetrical, it reflects a world that is so often wrong. A world in which more often than not things don’t really make sense, where tragedies strike at random, where one cannot depend on good outcomes if there are good efforts, good intentions, even good choices and actions. And so we design buildings that are well balanced, symmetrical, that have crisp lines and right angles. Designs that meet some sort of platonic ideal of how things ought to be.
And while the perfection of a building or a chair, or a line may be striving after some sort of platonic ideal, the deep sense that something is wrong is not. There is something within us that knows that something is deeply wrong with the world, we know that things are not right, that things are not as they ought to be. And this can lead to two very opposite things: despair, and hope.
And this all brings us to the season that we enter on Sunday. Advent is largely a misunderstood season, as we tend to think of it as simply getting ready for Christmas. And too often, Advent is taken up with shopping and wrapping and parties and Christmas carols, which deprive us of the depth of Advent, and everything that Advent has to offer.
More than anything, Advent is a protest of hope against a broken world.
Advent is what helps us to move to hope, rather than despair. Advent gives hope that things will be set right, that God is doing something that we cannot yet see, that somehow there will be good that comes out of this mess, even if we cannot understand it. And Advent is a time when I can be reminded that God can, somehow some way, make something good out of the mess that is me.
And this is what leads me back to these wonky candles. They are bent, though not bent the exact same ways. They don’t sit the same in the wreath, and they have lost the smooth and largely unblemished texture and are now a bit rough and a bit lumpy. They are crooked and askew, though not completely devoid of their function.
Kind of like me. And perhaps you. And likely all of us.
I think I’m going to keep these wonky candles. (Though I’m not sure if I’ll burn them, they look like they might be a fire hazard.) But there is something very Advent about them. Something very already but not yet, something that invites one to look deeper, to be aware of what is, but also to imagine what might be.
The candles are messed up and so am I. But there’s something better on the horizon.
And maybe, just maybe, there’s something beautiful, even inside those wonky candles.