Though there’s still a month left until 2014, the Liturgical Year begins with the season of Advent, and here at A Sacred Journey, we’re starting this Liturgical Year with a new Liturgical Guide–one of my dearest friends, Katie Jensen. (New to liturgy? Read about the value of the Liturgical Calendar for the pilgrim here.)
Katie’s not new to the community here–in September she shared her discoveries on meeting seasons of waiting with intention. This is perfect, of course, since Advent is all about waiting, and she offers more reflections on staying with uncertainty and mystery, especially during this holiday season, in the post below. We’ll hear from Katie next on Christmas day, when the real feasting begins!
(PS–We’re going all in for Advent here at A Sacred Journey, with Meghan Cappon joining us as our Pilgrim in Residence next week as she reflects on her journey into motherhood. Sounds familiar, eh?)
With Thanksgiving suddenly behind us here in America, we are launched full-force into the Christmas season. Stores are all playing Christmas music, Starbucks has brought out their red cups, and Christmas Tree lots are popping up on every abandoned roadside corner.
Yet amidst the inevitable hustle and bustle of this time of year (this “getting ready” for Christmas), we often neglect the most important preparation we need to be doing–readying our hearts and lives for the coming of Christ. This is why remembering the season of Advent is important. In Advent we are ushered into a time of waiting where we are connected again with our desire, our longing, and our yearning for God. Joan Chittister, in the book The Liturgical Year, comments: “The year opens with Advent, the season that teaches us to wait for what is beyond the obvious. It trains us to see what is behind the apparent. Advent makes us look for God in all those places we have, until now, ignored.”
“In Advent we are ushered into a time of waiting
where we are connected again with our desire,
our longing, and our yearning for God.”
A few years ago a worked for an organization called Advent Group Ministries. It was a residential treatment program for teens dealing with drug and alcohol addictions. I was one of the residential counselors who lived in a house with a group of these girls. Much of our time was spent doing everyday things–chores, school, cooking. I’d also bring them to an AA or NA meeting every night. Most of these girls had come from pretty rough backgrounds. They were involved in gangs, abuse, drug dealing, and sometimes even prostitution. They were often put in our program by the Juvenile Hall, social services, or sometimes by their parents for a multi-month season of re-habilitation, of re-orientation, of sinking down deep into themselves and to ask what they really want for their lives.
It was a time that provided an honest look at the past, and poignant questions about the future. It was often a time of hoping and waiting for some sort of magic–a movement of God to happen, to bring light to some really dark places. Many of these girls are still waiting. How appropriate that they spent this time in a place called Advent. Advent is a time when we, too, are invited to sink deeply into ourselves and re-orient ourselves to the world and to God. It is a humble time of recognizing one’s need, and yearning for God’s powerful presence to break into the world.
“Advent is a time when we…are invited to sink deeply into ourselves
and re-orient ourselves to the world and to God.”
The waiting we are called to do during Advent is not the busy, numbing, frenetic kind of waiting, but the stilling, germinating kind that connects you deeply with the present and your true self. We await the celebration of the human arrival of Jesus and we anticipate the eventual Second coming of Christ, but more profoundly, we open ourselves up to await the in-breaking of God into our own personal lives and communities here in the present. It is a time to connect with our hope and our desire.
Desire is more than wanting; it is longing, yearning, a deep-seated hope that has the power to burn into being a multitude of things. Theologian Wendy Farley, author of The Wounding and Healing of Desire, wrote, “Desire is the absurdity that holds open the infinity of possibility.” From experience, many of us have learned that desire itself often feels foolish. We are all familiar with the devastation of disappointment and have, in turn, used it to disown, numb, and shrink our desire.
Advent is a season for us to settle down deeply into ourselves–to hear our heart cry, to find that spark of life and hope deep within the darkness of unknowing. Desires unfulfilled. Hope unmet. Longing unsatisfied. It is a time of discernment, of waiting, of being present. It is an active waiting. Because of this, it seems appropriate that in the northern hemisphere, this is the darkest time of year. I’ve heard that that is one of the reasons why the celebration of Christmas was set for end of December. Because in a very real way, it is the Christ child that ushers in the light.
“Advent is a season for us to settle down deeply into ourselves—
to hear our heart cry, to find that spark of life and hope
deep within the darkness of unknowing.”
Just as in the Jewish tradition, each day begins at sunset, begins with darkness, so it seems appropriate that the beginning of the church calendar would likewise begin in stillness and the dark, with us facing our deepest fears and desires, cultivating our hope for the light. In the silence and the darkness, we hear our own heart’s cry, our own flame of desire, our own longing for God.
During the season of Advent I invite you to not get caught up in the frenetic chaos of holiday preparation, but do the work of preparing your soul, of reconnecting with yourself and your desire.
1. Walk your neighborhood
So much about Advent is about re-centering, about coming back to that deep place of home. I have a few block circle that I make regularly about my neighborhood. It has been an excellent way for me to find a sense of grounding, to still the frenetic chaos of my mind and life and dig deeply into a sense of place and of embodiment. Try bundling up and walking your neighborhood during this season as a physical way to settle your mind and return to a sense of center, of home.
2. Light a candle each morning
Advent is a season where we sink deeply into darkness—for most of us in a literal way. Consider making it a practice each morning or evening of Advent to light a candle as a symbol of hope and of active waiting. Our desire burns in us as we anticipate the coming of the light of Christ. Light your candle as a way of daily connecting with your desire and your hope.
3. Use an Advent calendar
This is a common Advent practice, but growing up I never really associated any meaning with it except a way to countdown until Christmas and a source of argument between me and my sisters. But much more is going on. For an Advent calendar, you need to pull something out of a secret pocket or door every day. This is a good practice of anticipating the good gifts of Christmas, and I don’t mean the ones under the tree. In these small, everyday uncoverings, we are learning to look for God, and hoping God will turn up in small, daily, unforeseen ways.
4. Create a nativity journey
I began doing this practice last year as I was learning more about stepping into Advent. When I set up my nativity set, I didn’t set it up all together. Instead I put Mary and Joseph on one side of the room, the shepherds on another, and the Wise Men on another. Sometimes throughout the season I’d move them a little closer together to replicate the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem and the Wise Men following the star. This continued throughout advent and then the manger scene was not complete until Epiphany, when we celebrate the arrival of the Wise Men, at the very end of the Christmas season. This has served as a visual and tangible way for me to remember and participate in the story throughout Advent, the season of preparing and waiting, where we journey in darkness and in hope.
5. Build a community hope chain
For Advent at my church this year we are creating a paper chain–not a chain counting down the days until Christmas like I used to make when I was young. This is a chain about hope–and more importantly, about hope in community. We are buying nice Purple paper, the color of Advent, and inviting each member of the community to staple loops to the chain each week as a symbol of individual and communal hope. We will do this each week throughout Advent and keep the chain up in the sanctuary. So that when Christmas really does come our hope will be strong, our community bolstered, and our anticipation high. Try this with your family, a small group, or even on your own as a specifically Advent decoration.
How will you live in the waiting?