Can you believe that in two days we'll be halfway through Advent? Gaudete Sunday: pink candle on the advent wreath, rose vestments for those who have them, concerts and pageants in many congregations. Time to rejoice!
Rejoice in the nearness of Christ's coming, yes, but also in the many gifts of the pregnant waiting time when the world (in the northern hemisphere, at least) spins ever deeper into sweet, fertile darkness.
What makes you rejoice about:
I think that waiting is an indispensable part of our happiest times. With few exceptions, the coming of a child into our lives is preceded by a period of waiting, whether the nine months of a pregnancy or the sometimes much longer waiting period for an adoption. Sometimes that waiting is very hard, we want the child NOW. Yet, in addition to the practical reasons for the wait, there is a spiritual reason. Each child brings change into our lives and the waiting period gives us time to imagine how that change will affect our families. Yes, there are many sensible reasons for waiting.
There is also a dimension to waiting that is a bit harder to explain. There is the feeling of growing excitement that manifests as a feeling of fullness around the heart, which we usually manage to contain, but which occasionally causes us to break out in a shriek, a giggle, or a shiver of delighted expectation. That's the aspect of waiting that really makes me rejoice.
One of Sisterknits' and my favorite stories for this time of year is Karin's Christmas Walk by Susan Pearson. (It's out of print, but available in used bookstores and libraries, and worth the hunt.) In this simple story, a young girl, Karin, awaits the Christmas visit of her favorite uncle. There is uncertainty -- will he arrive in time, or at all? There is remembering, of the good times they have shared in the past, and of the stories of his and her mother's childhood. There is preparation: a trip to the store to pick up items her mother needs for the feast. There are distractions: neighbors to greet, new kittens at the neighborhood café. Finally, Karin arrives home and sees her uncle's truck in the driveway. She doesn't run into the house right away. Instead, she stops for a moment outside, peeking in through the window at her family. "For just one moment she thought, "Next is the very best, most wonderful time in the whole year." Then she opened the door." Karin understands the joy of waiting.
Living as I do on the eastern edge of the Eastern Time Zone, at latitude 43'9"N, I had better rejoice in darkness at this time of year. Sunset today is at 4:02 pm. By Solstice I'm sure it will be much closer to 3:30. Three or four of Rusty's daily walks take place in the dark.
I have to fight against a disinclination to stir out of the house after dark. It's probably an inheritance from centuries of New England (and Old Britain) ancestors who pretty much stayed in after the cows were milked in wintertime. But, that implicit permission to savor the comforts of home is part of what makes me rejoice in the dark. This is Dylan Thomas's "close and holy darkness" for me.
Thinking about darkness brings back a memory so strong I can almost see it. When I was back in Maine my last year of high school, I would often walk down the road to spend the evening with my grandmother -- drinking tea boiled in an old coffeepot on the wood stove, discussing books, or just companionably reading our separate books together. Eventually would come the time to go home to bed. There were no other houses between my grandparents' and ours, and there was a part of the road where I couldn't see the lights of home ahead. On a clear winter's night, I would be surrounded by white snowfields giving way to dark woods, with a huge dark sky overhead, filled with stars. There was a certain existential terror in this experience -- although I knew and felt no fear of any human or animal assailant, yet I shivered and quickened my steps to escape this place where I felt small and alone. But -- when I want to capture the true meaning of awe -- what I use is the memory of those starlit walks up the Millay Road.
As I am someone who has chosen to retire to a state with "nine months of winter and three months of damn' poor sleddin'," (after living 30+ years in a place with even harsher winters), it is no surprise that I rejoice in winter. Yes, even now, when I have to put on my heavy boots, coat, scarf, hat and mittens several times a day just to walk the dog. This year we have been having a more normal Maine winter than recently, with plenty of snow and more to come. It's so beautiful. I've never been much of a winter sportsperson (or summer, fall or spring sportsperson for that matter) although I did my share of sliding as a child, and also enjoyed just observing winter's changes -- I remember one year in Connecticut when it was cold enough that the salt water of Long Island Sound froze several feet out from shore and how fascinating that was. Walking through a gentle snowfall, waking up to a world covered in sparkling white -- these parts of winter are easy to rejoice in. But also to rejoice in is the feeling of at last reaching your house when you've been struggling home through a blizzard, and the joy of getting warm after feeling you would never be warm again. So, Southern folks, don't feel too sorry for us Northerners. We have our compensations.
Of course I could not write a whole blog post without being reminded of a song. This one I have known for a long time but had forgotten until today because I no longer have my old vinyl albums. Judy Collins sang it on one of her early records, and I don't know who wrote it. It's a good Advent song: "Out Under the Winter Sky...I feel like something's being born, Tells my soul not to mourn."
It's hard to imagine Christmas without Advent now, although as a child I don't think I knew much about it. Although I vow every year to do Christmas preparations throughout the year, that usually doesn't happen. This year, a combination of poorly-timed head colds, a husband rehearsing seemingly non-stop for three theatrical performances, and my old procrastination problem, has put me behind. Thus, this Advent has not been as peaceful and reflective a time as I would wish. (And I have no church responsibilities!) I appreciate the chance to blog and especially the Friday Fives for prompting some reflection at least once a week.
5. Jesus' coming?
Hmmm. In the eschatological sense? I don't think about it much. Of course, we celebrate Jesus' coming at Christmas each year, but I rejoice in it each day of the year that I see evidence of the Kingdom of God in the good and charitable actions, large and small, that people of all faiths (and no faith) daily perform. Bad news sells, but the Good News is there too if we remember to look for it. I think my dear husband said it well in one of his Christmas carols:
Here is the end and start,
For Bethlehem is found in
Each kind and humble heart.