A CHILDHOOD NEIGHBOR, EVA, was known for her beautiful flower garden and care for unwanted, stray and hurt dogs—usually six or seven at a time. My siblings and I spent a lot of time at Eva’s, helping her with the garden and the dogs. She showed us how to watch and wait for tiny, sturdy seeds to sprout, and how to gain the big, brittle dogs’ trust.
At any given time, most of the dogs had been with Eva long enough to enjoy having young kids to play with. But one or two—the newest—weren’t ready. Newcomers, skittish and snappy, stayed in a room off the living room, just behind a screened door, so they could see all the goings-on. It was enough of a distance for small children and big dogs to feel safe, offering time and space for all the animals to breathe. Then we all waited.
This issue of Gather contains two different themes, “Creatures” and “Advent,” that surprisingly, have something in common: watching, waiting and the gift of presence. As we learn from Bible study author Sara Olson-Smith (p. 24) and Advent devotional author Becca Ehrlich (p. 38), two thoughtful and wise ELCA pastors, these are key parts of our journeys alongside other animals in creation and through the time of Advent.
Watching or considering the birds, as Jesus tells us to do, can replace our anxiety with awe, Sara Olson-Smith writes. She notes the many ways Jesus invites us to notice our solidarity with other creatures, celebrate our kinship with them, and claim our responsibility to care for them and each other.
But watching, waiting and being present run counter to the rampant commercialization in today’s culture, as Becca Ehrlich points out. She warns us against the “more is better” mentality, helping us explore ways to celebrate the gift of presence, rather than the gift of presents at Christmas. Watching, waiting and being give us room, she says. Room to breathe. Time and space to experience the miracle of Jesus’ birth and to embrace God’s generous gift of life.
Which brings me back to what I learned as a small child from Eva and her dogs. As the days and weeks passed at Eva’s, we’d begin to see signs of hope. A once-skittish newcomer would become comfortable enough for Eva to send in Dolly, a gentle Doberman pinscher, whose calm, comforting spirit prepared them for the company of other dogs. Over time, I would sit quietly against that screen door, while the new dog snuffled my hair and clothing. Soon and very soon, I knew the dog would be ready to run and play joyfully with all of us. Only recently did I learn that my neighbor’s name, Eva, meant “life” or “breath.” Her very name proclaimed what she brought to her adopted family of dogs and people—a breath of life. As Advent approaches, I pray that we remember that Advent, the time of watching and waiting, points us toward life and joy, the coming of Christ at Christmas, in our lives and at the end of time.
Elizabeth Hunter is editor of Gather. A lifelong Lutheran, she enjoys spending time with family, walking in the woods and kayaking along the rivers where a quiet peace can be found.
This article appears from in the November/December 2022 issue. To read more articles like it, subscribe to Gather.
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