I heard a story on NPR last night as I was wending my way back from the Northern Tier. It was about the profession of futurism and those who, by intuition and inference based on elite, non-mathematical statistics, predict all manner of things in our geo-political world. The radio host interviewed Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner about their new book, Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction and talked about their experience in the field of practicing strategic foresight. They discussed military and political uses of this practice in our country and also related the exercise to the more mundane parts of our lives- like determining whether or not we’d have snow for Christmas. Like a lot of NPR programs, I found it fascinating and was grateful for the company as I plowed my way down RT 11/15 with 18-wheelers as my only other company.
And then I got theological, as I sat behind the wheel. I started thinking about Superforecasting and Advent.
You see, Advent is problematic.
It could use a little superforecasting.
Advent is the season of expectation and hope that, statistically speaking, could go either way, in the end. It’s not a done deal with a guaranteed outcome. Now, there’s no doubt, on the first Advent, that there was to be a culminating event- a birth. Anyone reading this who’s ever been nine months pregnant knows that even though it seems interminable, at some point, the pregnancy will come to a close and a baby will be born. And I’m sure that the Holy Mother knew, bouncing along on that donkey to Bethlehem, that her time was drawing nigh.
But in our modern day Advent, we are hoping for, expecting, something a little different. We are hoping for Jesus to be born anew, in our hearts. And that’s a little risky. It’s not risky because God might make other plans… but it’s risky because we might not be prepared, or “catch” God when God shows up. The problem with Advent is that its outcome depends on our ability to receive the gift that God has in store for us: the gift of power and peace, delivered in the package of a tiny babe.
Many of us participate in Advent devotions that, like Lenten practices, aim to incorporate something new into our spiritual disciplines that will help to prepare us for receiving Christ. There are books to read, candles to light, and calendars to help us mark the time. The Advent readings on Sundays invite us to reflect on the concept of time, as God knows it, and on the might and mystery of redemption. It is John, though, who shouts at us and gets us to pay attention: “Repent.” I interpret this call for repentance as a call to turn ourselves around, and to open ourselves again, to God. The Greeks call it “metanoia,” or “turning,” and this “turning around” is how I practice preparing my heart for Christ. Turn from the distractions of daily life. Turn from the pattern and demands of the calendar, turn from routine, turn from the usual, and open oneself to what could be- the possibility of deep peace, inner harmony, acceptance, vitality and new life. That’s what awaits us in the manger, if we are open to receiving the gift.
I don’t know what the superforecasters might say about the risk of Advent; if we do the work and open our hearts, if we turn to Christ, will he appear? Without any technical training in the art of futurism, I’m willing to say, “yes.” Prepare your heart, and receive the Christ.
Blessings for a holy Christmas.
* the blog will be suspended for the next 2 Fridays as we celebrate the Feast of the Nativity and take a short Christmas break. Look for the next Compass Point on Jan.8th.