Tag Archives: liturgical year

Illusion & Light

Recently I had a conversation with a friend about Advent, and how it can be a good time for grieving. It’s a season of outer sheen, but many people are processing things in the shadows. There’s a peculiar kind of grief that hovers over the season.

In some ways, this sadness stems from the fictional idea of a “perfect” Christmas that advertisements feed us. Consumerism lures year round, but this time of year the pull is especially strong. We’re not just buying a toy or a book, we’re told cleverly, we’re buying an experience, a memory, a feeling. But then the day comes and goes, and whatever problems we have are still problems. The idea of a perfect Christmas is an illusion, and the aftermath brings an aching, empty feeling.

But there’s more to it than just that. Judy Garland captures a beautiful melancholy in the movie Meet Me in St. Louis. When she croons have yourself a merry little Christmas, I feel that thing I don’t quite have words for, that remembrance of childhood hopes and anticipation and wonder, mixed in with all the adult realities of my life. Christmas can be a lot of work, and I miss loved ones who aren’t around, but I’m also missing something I never actually had. 

I’ve realized in the past few years, as my curiosity about the liturgical year has grown, that Advent is about homesickness for the Kingdom of God. I didn’t come to this idea myself, but it gives me language for something I’ve felt many times.

There’s an undercurrent to Advent that invites us to enter into the world’s pain more deeply. To pour from our fragile pitcher of grief into the vast ocean of sorrow and then wade out into it, letting the waves crash against our legs. To feel a little more than we let ourselves feel at other times. Our pain calls us to see each other, to see ourselves, to understand and name our longing for a different Kingdom.

someday soon, we all will be together

I love the tradition of lighting Advent candles. Each Sunday, as the tradition calls for, we light one, then two, then three, then all. Each light reminds us that we’re drawing closer to Christmas, but the unlit candles also remind us that we’re in a season of waiting.

1473069_10100341528676081_1806314301_n

A profound difference exists between the disappointment that comes when Christmas presents don’t actually fill our void and the sharing of grief that Advent calls us to. Both involve sadness, yes, but one points to an earthly kingdom and one points us to the upside-down kingdom where God is at work in the shadows, inviting us to join. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Rather than something to dread, setting apart a season to tune in to the pain of the world and join that world in waiting for relief is a gift. We remember our own losses, unmet expectations, “the hopes and fears of all the years” and we wait, quietly.

I’d like to learn to be better at quiet, this Advent. At rest. It’s only December 3rd but I’m feeling slightly anxious because we have no decorations up, not even those four Advent candles. I’m very much vulnerable to the illusion of a perfect Christmas. I like order, and plans, and not missing out. My instinct is to channel my anxiety, which is probably really grief, into frantic attempts at creating that illusion to make myself feel better. And it’s true: the glowing tree and the wooden Nativity and the kids’ crafts I’ve saved will make me feel good. Beauty points to its own Author. But then I think about the mess of this season. The mess of a baby on the way and no marriage certificate to make things tidy. Mary pushing out a baby in the messiest of conditions. All those months, giving a body to God, putting flesh on a Spirit, tissue differentiating into muscle and bone, taking all from a tired, vulnerable, unspeakably brave mother. It fills me with hope to realize that Mess can point to God, too. 

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. Ah, she knew about stillness, about rest. Can I make a space for the Child, right here? Can I find the holy space that contains the beautiful and the messy, and choose to be still in it?

This season seems to be brimming with the purest kind of rest. I don’t want illusion, not really, even though I’ll forget and chase it from time to time. I want illumination. To bring my whole, messy self to the manger, yet again.

Advertisements

4 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

rooted

We make our way down the hill from the cul-de-sac to the footpath, me pushing the stroller, their little faces growing rosy in the cold air. Still growing accustomed to all of these trees, we look up, quiet, crunching the diminishing leaf piles underneath. As we walk toward the water, the remaining leaved branches shimmer and sway in the slight breeze, but my gaze goes to line of thinning, nearly bare trees in the distance. They don’t seem to move at all. It’s as if they’ve shifted their weight a little lower into the earth and now they stand with perfect posture, rooted, stoic.

There’s a different sort of chill in the air today; autumn is giving way, slowly. I’m thinking of the winter to come, of more time indoors.

//

In the early hours before sunlight, I fold myself out of the warm bed, first creaking down the stairs for coffee, to listen and write in the still, taking joy from all the feathers lining my nest lately. I’ve known bare, too.

20131111_102631

The man who helped to bring me up in this world would have been 65 last Friday. I’ve never observed All Saint’s Day before, and so I haven’t noticed its proximity to his birthday. It comes around this time of year when we’re adjusting to less light, reading more, wrapping up in warmth, re-calibrating to a slower rhythm.

So maybe it’s a gift that the community church we visited on Sunday celebrated All Saint’s Day a week late. They placed remembrances on an altar, lit candles, wiped their eyes, and later we passed bread and sipped wine from that same altar. When we sang a song honoring the ordinary saints that we love and miss, I heard my Dad in the words.

It was a gift to pause and feel the sadness tug at me, but meet quickly with joy as it does now. It took years for that to happen, for time to weave its silky cocoon around all those sharp edges that would pierce with every turn. I’m blessed to remember someone so fondly. Blessed for these roots from which to draw water.

And today, blessed to walk through our little neighborhood forest as it shakes its leaves down and reminds me: I’m rooted, I’m known, and all shall be well.

Leave a comment

November 15, 2013 · 5:00 am