Friday, November 25, 2005

Advent Askings: A Weekend Wonderings Special Edition

Various folks around the blog world have been writing about this season of Hallowsgivingmas (as Quotidian Grace uses in her RevGals Round-Up), which has brought to mind many questions for me, particularly as I have been blindsided by the arrival of Thanksgiving. Impossibly enough, last Sunday was the feast of Christ the King, and this Saturday evening signals the arrival of Advent, the beginning of the liturgical year.

Now, in our society, we make a big deal of celebrating New Year's Eve with parties, resolutions, and various other big deals. But our Liturgical New Year's Eve often drifts by without much more thought than "Uh-oh, only 27 shopping days until Christmas." We jump right into the punchline, which doesn't happen in the "real" world. I mean, it's not like we skip right over to Groundhog's Day once the ball drops, do we? We don't immediately worry about Punxsutawney Phil feeling in the shadow of Dick Clark, do we?

Advent and Lent are two seasons set aside by the church as times to take a little extra focus on our faith and the role that it plays in our life. Lent proves to be a real biggie, what with its almsgiving, prayer, and fasting -- we give things up and we work on repentance. I don't mean to downplay the significance of Lent, as it leads up to a most crucial point of Christianity, the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But, at the same time, if Jesus had never been born ....

Think about it ... in Advent, we hear all about John the Baptist, "the voice of one crying out in the wilderness," proclaiming a time to repent and prepare the way for the One Who Is To Come (which, sacreligiously enough, makes me think of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, but maybe that's just cuz I saw the new HP last night. But I digress...). But what do we do to make it be a time of preparation, a time of "Waiting in silence, waiting in hope"? We don't wait, and the preparations are not those that I think JBapt was talking about. Yeah, sure, we have our Advent calendars and Advent wreaths, but the prep work is all about buying the Santa stuff and rushing around from party to party to pack it all in. Where is the interior preparation?

Do we even think about what we are preparing for?

The month of December ends up being non-stop go-go-go. We kind of joke at the monastery about the fact that technically we're not supposed to decorate until we have had the Blessing of the Greens, usually around the 18th or so. But, there's something to be said for that delay. There's something to be said for holding off on the Christmas hymns until Christmas actually arrives. After all, we wait until Easter Sunday to sing "Jesus Christ is Risen Today" -- how come we let Jesus be born three weeks early every year? (Which also begs the question of how come Jesus shows up in the Nativity scenes way before schedule, and the wise men never wait until Epiphany to show up, but that's just another digression.) We think nothing of taking quiet time to retreat and reflect and repent during Lent, but the thought of a time-out during Advent just seems like crazy talk.

And yet, if you think about it, this should be the more obviously preparation-oriented liturgical season. After all, who really gets to prepare for someone's death? But how much preparation-time goes on in those nine months leading up to the arrival of a newborn? Even if you are not the immediate parent, there still the ever-growing anticipation as you help your friend along the journey. It takes a lot of work to welcome someone new into your home, even if it's through adoption or just an exchange student. And we think a couple candles in the window are enough to prepare our homes (both literal and figurative) for the Son of God?

It's been making me wonder, over the past couple weeks, how to make Advent be an actual time of waiting, anticipation, and preparation; how to not let myself get so caught up in everything I have to do (in terms of cards, gifts, grades, exams, etc.) that I lose sight of why I'm doing it. Last Advent we weren't in the monastery church because it was in the middle of major renovations; I really felt the absence of the large Advent wreath and the pipe organ's accompaniment of the O Antiphons. I wonder how much less I'll feel in the spirit living in a small community away from the monastery and the larger-scale community prayer. How can I not lose sight of the bigger picture, and be fully present to the moment rather than jumping ahead to the last week of the month? It almost makes me want to adapt the Lenten tradition of "resolutions" and apply it somehow to this other, often-neglected season.

Then yesterday, I received the Thanksgiving e-mail from my prioress, in which she asks the community the following questions:
On Saturday evening, we begin the season of Advent: the season of “the coming of our God”. I invite you to take some time and ask yourself: Where do you need God to come to you? How and what are you longing for? What Advent “practice” would be helpful for you during these weeks before Christmas? Advent is such a special season. Let us walk through these next weeks with eyes and hearts open to the many ways our God comes to us throughout each day---and through one another!
And so I ask you all:
How do you prepare for the coming of the Christ-child?
What are your Advent practices?
How do you keep the season from getting lost in the shuffle of the season?
(In other words, how do you delay the Christmas season until Christmas?)

Besides, of course, the obvious choice of purchasing and using multiple copies of A Light Blazes in the Darkness, as conveniently advertised in my sidebar here, and checking it out online at its very own website. Plus, there are also the monastery reflections that will be posted somewhere on our website that should also be checked out -- link to be posted as soon as I figure it out!

Any takers?


Blogger What Now? said...

I always find Advent a difficult season to be truly present for, because it gets so mixed up in the end of the term, as well as all of the Christmas consumerism that's now part of December. I'm trying this year to be present for Advent in a more deliberate way than I've achieved in the past. D. and I are leading an online discussion group for our parish, using Raymond Brown's A Coming Christ in Advent, and I'm hoping that this will help me to return to an awareness of Advent a few times a week.

A blessed Advent to you and yours!

11/26/2005 11:25 AM  
Blogger andrea said...

My prayer life has been somewhat lacking lately, so for Advent I made a commitment to pray morning, evening, and night prayer each day. Even though it's just the beginning of Advent, the prayers have already put me in a different place. And I hope that when I get to Mass my church will have the Little Blue Books available.

11/27/2005 12:45 PM  
Blogger seeking_something said...

Our parish gives us a copy of the Advent issue of Word Among Us.

Actually I thrash about, mumbling to myself "what more must I do?" And then next thing you know, it's Christmas eve already. I need a big "Jesus kick me in the butt" to get some sort of prayer life going. See Lord, do you see how much I need you?

11/27/2005 6:22 PM  
Blogger Claire Joy said...

Even as a secular person, I refused to have a creche without a detachable baby Jesus, who would show up in his cradle on midnight Christmas eve… but then I'm so linear in my thinking, it probably had little to do with the real meaning of Christmas.

11/28/2005 12:59 PM  

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