There’s a weight scale in my bathroom with the exotic name of Atlantis with whom I have a nearly daily conversation. It’s one of those modern scales with a tempered glass platform and a digital readout. When I bought it some years ago I at first hesitated to stand on the glass having never stood on glass before and always been told not to, but within a few days I was used to it.
Then during one of our household moves a tiny little sensor on one of the four plastic feet broke off. I carefully duct-taped it back on. (Have you ever seen “carefully” and “duct-tape” together in the same sentence before? I doubt it.)
But now I don’t trust the scale anymore, and with good reason. Here’s how our daily conversations go:
Atlantis: “97.7; no wait, 97.9.”
Me: “That’s ridiculous. That’s not even remotely possible. There’s absolutely no way I gained more than 2 kilos of weight since yesterday morning. I haven’t even consumed 2 kilos worth of food and beverage since yesterday! And anyway, make up your mind.”
I get off the scale and try again.
Atlantis: “95.8, no 95.7, almost there, 95.6….”
Me: “Go on, can you give me 95.5?” I ask, getting off and getting back on again.
Atlantis: “…95.5; I’m done.”
Me: “Yes!” I exclaim, contented, “I haven’t gained a thing since yesterday!”
My scale, given enough encouragement and opportunity, is always very accommodating; amiable even. It’s the nicest scale I’ve ever had.
But then every now and again I go to visit my mother, across the border down in the USA. The border crossing and drive take a couple of hours and by the time I get to my mom’s place I invariably have to pee.
These initial visits to my mom’s washroom take longer than usual. I suspect she thinks I have some kind of problem that needs looking into. Later, over sandwiches at lunch, she’ll tell me stories of how my dad had a medical procedure to fix his plumbing.
What she doesn’t know is that I’m in her washroom having an encounter with Truth.
My mom’s scale is a chrome and green enamel art-deco styled thing, one of those old-fashioned behemoths with a stiff dial under a large fish-eye lens. She’s had it for ages. Our dog, Hamish, once wandered into the washroom on a visit and wouldn’t stop barking and growling at it, sure as he was that it was alive and threatening him with its cold myopic stare.
So after taking a pee I quickly undress to my skivvies and socks, and step onto my mom’s scale. I am silent. There’s no conversation here, no bargaining, pleading or complaining. I know that I will humbly accept, as I have done since my youth, the exacting judgement of this noble instrument. I will know the truth and not quibble. There will be no second guessing about what condition my condition is in.
To me, Advent, along with her bigger brother, Lent, are the liturgical siblings of my mom’s scale. All year long I can fluff around with my spirituality, fudging it here and there, bargaining, letting things slide, making excuses. And then Advent starts and all that is gone.
“…he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.”
“…(and John) went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, -as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth…”
These, and the many scripture readings like it which belong to the Advent season, teach us the importance of having periods to conduct a properly measured examination of our faith. Our personal scales may be a bit wonky, but there is One whose scale is true.
This may seem a frightening thing, but it need not be. The reason for knowing our true condition is not that we should be condemned by it, but that we might be made more complete human beings through the purposed effort to address our shortcomings. Our lives are better when we are better.
Recently I watched a film online, Night Train to Lisbon, based on the philosophical book of the same title by Swiss author Pascal Mercier. I can recommend it. The script has many memorable quotes and intriguing thoughts, but the words that come back to me today are these: “Given that we can live only a small part of what there is in us — what happens with the rest?”
I like to think that those missing parts of us, of who we can be when we are made whole, are somewhere to be found in the divine. Advent is a time to explore and confess our deficiencies, waiting in hopeful expectation of participating in a new move of God, of entering a new era. By meeting God more fully we become more fully who we were intended to be.