Michelle Francl-Donnay

Michelle Francl-Donnay

O afflicted one, storm-battered and unconsoled,
I lay your pavements in carnelians,
your foundations in sapphires;
I will make your battlements of rubies,
your gates of jewels,
and all your walls of precious stones. Isaiah 54:11-12

“What do I need to cook a turkey, besides a big pan?” wondered my oldest son, staging Thanksgiving hundreds of miles from home. “Time,” I texted back. “Time to defrost it and time to cook it.” Time, I thought, wishing I could jot it on the shopping list next to onions and potatoes.

Time feels in short supply right now. It’s the end of my semester, so time for advising and writing letters of recommendations needs to be found amid classes and review sessions. My pile of grading stretches into eternity, and deadlines sprout on my calendar like dandelions, one puff and there are four more tasks rooted in my to-do list. And very little can wait for another week, or perhaps even another day.


I long for the luxury of waiting, of having time to sit and watch, to take long stretches for prayer. But the Advent I dream of is not the Advent I have. So I take heart in theologian and Jesuit Father Walter Burghardt’s encouragement to be aware of what is right before us: “This very moment, for all its imperfection and frustration, is pregnant with possibilities, pregnant with the future, pregnant with love, pregnant with Christ.”

This very moment is the only one that I have; can I see what it holds? An undisturbed five minutes to drink a cup of tea, washed in the sunlight of an early morning, the psalter open on my lap. The single leaf that floated past my office window, reminding me that seen or unseen, aware or not, God is at work in creation. The pool of quiet that emerged on the sidewalk outside of the post office on Saturday afternoon, a breath of stillness in the midst of a long list of errands, a reminder to be still, let go my grasp and know that God is with us. The student who, seeing me struggle with a stack of books for class, turned around on the stairs and helped me carry them to my classroom, Christ before me.

Perhaps Advent is as much a time for rousing, as it is for quiet waiting. “Now is the hour for you to awake from sleep!” cried St. Paul in the reading we heard on Sunday.  Stay awake, be alert to the signs of God among us.

Advent reminds me that, even in these storm-trammeled days, despite my imperfections, this moment is ever pregnant with possibilities, this moment is always charged with God’s grandeur. Look around, the pavements are laid in carnelians, the walls of precious stones. Now and always.

To listen:

Father Michael Joncas’ “In Our Hearts Be Born”

To reflect:

From priest and poet John O’Donohue’s “Blessing for One Who is Exhausted”

Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.
Become inclined to watch the way of rain
When it falls slow and free.
Imitate the habit of twilight,
Taking time to open the well of color
That fostered the brightness of day.
Draw alongside the silence of stone
Until its calmness can claim you.

To pray:

Rend the heavens and come down,
O God of all the ages!
Rouse us from sleep,
deliver us from our heedless ways,
and form us into a watchful people,
that, at the advent of your Son,
he may find us doing what is right,
mindful of all you command.

Grant this through him whose coming is certain,
whose day draws near:
your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God for ever and ever.
— A collect for the First Sunday in Advent, Cycle B


Michelle Francl-Donnay is a parishioner at Our Mother of Good Counsel in Bryn Mawr, a professor of chemistry at Bryn Mawr College and an adjunct scholar at the Vatican Observatory.