Ironic Advent 2015 Meditation #1:
It’s the First Sunday of Advent, and even in the C readings of the Lectionary, things are going to start getting weird. Signs in the sky, stars falling, fearful justice on the earth, run to the hills, blood in the sky weird. As the Monsignor said today in his rather boring homily, we prepare not just for the coming of the baby Jesus, but the coming of the Lord at the end of time, and His coming into our lives everyday as we pray, and at the Eucharist, and, of course, also His is coming in legendary Hollywood movies like King of Kings and The Greatest Story Ever Told and Ben Hur. OK, he didn’t really mention that last one, but even if he did, I still couldn’t keep track of all of the Divine Master’s comings and goings that we are supposed to be remembering or preparing to remember or whatever it is we are supposed to be doing other than lighting candles and enjoying our Advent calendars ($44.95 at Starbucks. Yes I said Starbucks. “Count down to Christmas,” boys and girls.) and fasting for the next four weeks. What? You didn’t know about the fasting? You’re reading way too much inspirational neo-Advent poetry and not looking at the rule book. Yes, there’s a rule book you cute little evangelical you.
More important than the calendars and candles, this is the traditional date of the beginning of that annual ordeal knows as Ironic Advent Meditations composed (well, channeled really) by yours truly. I want you to stay with me and read these until Christmas. If you do, I will reward you by writing twelve more special . . . things for the twelve days of Christmas. I call that a bargain. One warning, though. Don’t expect any cheap inspiration. I resist my own beliefs, ironize every piece of rhetoric to test whether it’s empty or not, and basically do my best to give Advent a hard time. IF Advent is legit, I figure it can take it. It’s the idea that Advent is an easy-to-grasp pious warm and fuzzy piece of gingerbread served up to people wearing Christmas sweaters and pjs with booties and patting themselves on the back for “preparing for Christmas” by mouthing the word Advent on four Sundays that I question. Well, that and about a million other things. You can get a sample of the stuff I serve up by looking at a meditations from 2013 on my blog here: http://bencaminosoul.blogspot.com/2013/12/ironic-advent-21-real-beds-of-earth.html.
But this is now, and this is what I have to say on the First Sunday of Advent 2015. It’s about the coming of Christ into my classroom in the person of a very different kind of student, a Trippy kid named Tripp. He died on this day in 2011, not quite finishing his semester in my Expository Writing class. He was unexpected, different, a square peg in a round hole or vice-versa, a pain, a blessing, a reproach, a challenge, and, most of all, a gift. He died in the shower after a day spent sledding in a snowstorm that hit campus that day, November 29, 2011.
Tripp came up to me after the end of his first class session with me and wanted to ask me a question. It was, to say the least, one I had never heard before. “I just kinda wondered . . . I mean I just wanted to ask to know what you thought about . . . like . . . could I write all my essays in here in the style of Hunter Thompson?” I’m laughing right now remembering this moment. Tripp had a way of asking questions sideways, talking around the topic, hemming and hawing, as they say, but he knew exactly what he wanted. I sometimes had to just stop him in class and say, “What exactly do you want to ask Tripp?” Another time, he was coming to our little Friday afternoon reading group (Friday at 4.01 we called it) and reading a Gonzo-style autobiographical essay explaining his love for, you guessed it, Hunter Thompson’s writing, and he started in mumbling about whether it would be OK to read it with all the language still in it and so on, and I just said: “It’s OK Tripp. This is a reading group. People read what they wrote. They don’t censor it.”
Well, anyway, that was our introduction. I had to explain to him that I would ask him to write a variety of essays and that writing all of them in imitation of Hunter Thompson, although it would be highly interesting to me, would not meet the course requirements. I did, though, encourage him to write his first piece, a literacy narrative, in that style, if that was indeed an important part of who he was as a writer.
As a writer. You don’t usually meet freshmen in Expository Writing who think of themselves as writers. In fact, one of my goals in such a course is to try to get at least a few students to think of themselves in those terms. Tripp was already there. He was always working on a piece of writing. He carried his computer sort of half in and half out of its bag and a big sheaf of loose papers—some typed, some scrawled with his pencil—with him wherever he went. He was famous for taking an entire table in the library so he could spread out all his stuff and work on whatever he was working on—the Utopian essay for my class or a more personal piece (in the style, of course, of Hunter Thompson).
Another thing Tripp would do was stay after class and just talk to me about writing, his writing, any writing, in the hallway. He didn’t care at all about his grades. I’m not guessing. He told me so. He apologized for not doing better, because, he said, he knew it mattered to me. One day, he actually offered me his personal copy of Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, the Thompson book that had turned him on to writing and helped him start on a quest to discover his own voice. He wanted me to have it. I gave it back, but I kept a sheaf of his papers after he left us.
It’s getting late, and it will already be the second day of Advent before I post this if I don’t finish it up. What does this have to do with Advent? Maybe nothing. Maybe everything. Tripp was an unexpected gift. We want “great” students in our classes. I got one, but had to readjust my understanding of what a great student was. He comes, if he comes at all, not as the other we can possess and consume, but as the gift that surprises and baffles and yes, ironizes all our expectations. We wait. We wait. We wait. We sing. We light candles. And we wait some more. The stars are falling. The mountains are doing something creepy and apocalyptic. And a fetus grows in his mother’s womb. And a kid shuffles sort of sideways and asks if he can write a column about the simple working people on campus instead of the football players. The kitchen help, the janitors, the maintenance people. The Syrian Refugee—OK that’s too easy. The Middle Eastern “neighbor” whom you have never spoken to. The student who looks at everything differently than everyone else and keeps asking difficult question. He comes, if he comes at all, in ways for which you cannot be prepared. So get ready. Whatever happens, if He is who they say He is, it will be a trippy Advent (whichever one it turns out to be).
I close with my prayer from Tripp’s funeral.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
To the God who is really there, despite what sometimes seems like a ridiculous lack of evidence, we give thanks and praise.
Thanks for Tripp Gorman’s life, for his love, his smile, his passion for writing, his desire to know, really know the truth, his questions, his challenges to our way too comfortable status quo, his cell phone, which even when set to vibrate, interrupted someone’s poetry at exactly 5 P.M. every Friday afternoon this semester, for the long nights spent in the library with sheets of paper spread out over an entire conference table, for his love of the down and outers, the marginal, the doubters, and the cynics.
Thanks you Lord for the family, and friends, and writers, and teachers, and classmates, and angels who loved him, laughed with him, played with him partied with him, studied with him, argued with him, tried to answer his questions, stayed after class to answer his questions, listened to him and read his writing, walked with him through difficult times, sometimes refused to walk where he wanted to go, whopped him upside the head, metaphorically speaking, when he needed it.
Forgive us for those times we didn’t love, didn’t listen, didn’t read his writing (or didn’t try to understand), didn’t forgive, didn’t challenge, didn’t pray with and for him, didn’t live lives as exciting and vibrant and wholehearted as anyone who really follows the untamed and unpredictable Jesus of Nazareth should.