Last week, I began my Advent journey by reflecting on a quote from Rūmī: “If you are irritated by every rub, how will your mirror be polished?” I focused on the words themselves and their various meanings in our culture. This week, I want to shift to a more explicitly spiritual reflection on the impact of rubbing on our lives.
After all, polishing isn’t just about perfecting reflective mirrors. Rubbing also stimulates plants to grow. Rubbing removes the grime that accumulates on things, especially in polluted cities or near kitchen cooktops. Precious stones are thoroughly transformed by being repeatedly rubbed and tumbled in controlled situations.
Yet we tend to desire only selective polishing. Most of us want just gentle rubbing, not vigorous tumbling. We want certain things to change while our core selves remain the same. If we’re honest, many of us don’t want the layers we have accumulated over the years—and become accustomed to carrying—to be vigorously stripped from our selves and our souls.
However, we don’t exist in a vacuum. If we have learned nothing else over the past few years, it’s that we live in community alongside others who view the world very differently. Even in both the bluest and reddest states in America, members of our community think, act, and presume differently than we do.
So, what does all this have to do with Advent? We tend to view our Advent spiritual disciplines as individualistic—or, at most, as a family affair. We light the Advent wreath, share a reading, and say a prayer. We focus on how we might bring ourselves closer to Christ, but not to our neighbors. We keep the attention on ourselves.
But as I noted, we do not live in a vacuum. Like stones in a tumbler, we dwell in an enclosed space with a bunch of other rough rocks. Our interactions with others will inevitably change both them and us.
How have interactions with others polished you at different times in your life? When have you noticed your actions rubbing off on others?
How could—and should?—your Advent actions or intentions change? In what ways do you need to live differently because it’s not all about you?