Going Off Road in Advent

atv off-road vehicleAs we experience this season of Advent, the metaphor of a journey stands out to me. I think about the different journeys, both geographical and interior, that the Gospels describe even before Jesus arrives. Zechariah journeys from distrust and silence into belief and joyful proclamation. Mary travels to visit Elizabeth, who, like Mary, undergoes the deep internal changes of pregnancy and the slow transition into motherhood. Joseph dreams. Mary ponders. Eventually, they both travel to Bethlehem, until finally they find rest and she gives birth. Jesus’ birth is itself an event that prompts the crossing of fields and towns by shepherds and Magi alike.

Whereas the spirit of Lent is penitential, Advent has a gentler way of getting us ready for the Lord. A friend once described it as a time when God tenderly breaks through all of our defenses. Advent is a time of slow surrender to the Lord.

My family and I enjoy hiking, and for longer trips, I like clearly marked trails. A compass and a good map are handy, too. But our Advent journeys are much more like going “off road.” In Advent, God is inviting us to explore the interior forest of our own hearts with God: places that are light, and shadowy and dark spots, sweet smelling pine beds and thorny thickets. It’s a season to deepen intimacy with the Lord by allowing him to walk with us into all of our interior spaces.

Mary and Joseph, Elizabeth and Zechariah all had to travel in new and different directions than planned. Even after Jesus’ birth, Mary turns over and ponders in her heart many remarks, from people who proclaim that they are ready to meet their maker now that they have seen her child, and another who speaks of the sword that will pierce her heart. The unfolding of God’s promise continues to be messy and complicated, but Mary walks closely with the Lord the whole way.

How? Mary listened, both to the angel and to the inner promptings of her own heart. Listening requires space and silence. It’s in silence that we can better hear God speak. Mary also had faith. In Greek, the term for faith is pistis, a word that also means trust. But trusting unmapped paths can feel uncertain and even scary. Advent is a time to deepen our trust in God, to lead us through the mud and muck as well as field and flower. In all of it, God comes to be with us, mercifully.

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Marina Berzins McCoy
Marina Berzins McCoy is a professor at Boston College, where she teaches philosophy and in the BC PULSE service-learning program. She is the author of The Ignatian Guide to Forgiveness and Wounded Heroes: Vulnerability as a Virtue in Ancient Greek Philosophy. She and her husband are the parents to two young adults and live in the Boston area.


  1. Great reflection. I always have mixed feelings about using a map v a compass to find my way. In the end I prefer the compass, as it allows us the freedom to make mistakes (leave what we think is the clearly marked trail) and then, after reflection, re-calculate to get back on course. Plus, the compass is always right there beside us. And whereas a map has “the destination” clearly marked, the compass has no set destination. We can leave that to God.

  2. Thank you for the reflection. I hike often, in fact I put 1000 miles under my boots this year. And as you noted, I still don’t know the way at times. Faith is a hike off the beaten path!

  3. Just beautiful. I loved the imagery! I love to hike too, so I could totally relate to journeying off road physically and spiritually. Thank you for sharing this wonderful reflection of promise, trust and hope.

  4. Thank you for this heart warming and soul searching article. This is a read and reread and ponder and meditate article!!! Merry Christmas to you !!!❤️

  5. Thank you, Marina…your insights touched my heart and nurtured me on my journey, an interior journey of transitioning into the comfort of of gracious lord who comes to us as Emmanuel…in the fresh stray and thorny thickets of life. Kathleen


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