Poised for “the Extraordinary Moment:” Frederick Buechner on Advent

Advent is an expectant season when we are poised for what Frederick Buechner calls “the extraordinary moment.” He employs, among others, the image of an orchestra conductor at the moment before the first notes are played.

I have in my mind’s eye Leonard Bernstein, who was a regular visitor to Tanglewood, where the Boston Symphony Orchestra has their summer home just down the road from here.  I recall how he would stride out of the wings (even at the end of his life when he needed oxygen between pieces) to thunderous applause.   Before he dropped the baton he would gather the full attention of both the players and the audience.  There was that moment before the extraordinary moment that Buechner describes:

“The house lights go off and the footlights come on. Even the chattiest stop chattering as they wait in darkness for the curtain to rise. In the orchestra pit, the violin bows are poised. The conductor has raised his baton. In the silence of a midwinter dusk, there is far off in the deeps of it somewhere a sound so faint that for all you can tell it may be only the sound of the silence itself. You hold your breath to listen. You walk up the steps to the front door. The empty windows at either side of it tell you nothing, or almost nothing. For a second you catch a whiff of some fragrance that reminds you of a place you’ve never been and a time you have no words for. You are aware of the beating of your heart . . .  The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment.” (Frederick Buechner, Whistling in the Dark, pp. 2-3)

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