Watching and Waiting: Advent 1

Today I am confused about Advent. I mean I know what the lectionary tells me it is, I know what the sacred reading tell me it is, but I am not altogether sure how to embody its observances and practices into my life.

I do know that it starts in darkness…and part of my world has been dark these past few weeks, with the expected but never welcome, loss of two women who have been exemplars and friends to me. Both were in their 80s’; both extended themselves to me at vulnerable points in my life, especially in my ministry in the Church. I mourn them and will miss them.

There is other darkness as well. I grieve for the little ones who are so vulnerable in the wake of political and military conflict–war, unrest, marginalization, neglect–around the world. I grieve for what seem to be an opaque cloak over the charity and open-heartedness of the Church, in almost every iteration and denomination. I mourn in anger for the widening divides in the world between the comfortable haves and the imperiled have-nots.

But I cling to Psalm 139: If I say “surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,” even the darkness, my darkness, is not dark to you. The night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you. ) vv.11-12

The saints knew that darkness did not mean the absence of the Holy One. John of the Cross knew much and had much to say about darkness. For him it was an invitation to new meaning, a chance to struggle through our own tangled understandings and ambiguities to a clearer knowledge of who we are and who God is. The beginning of our transformation into the person we are meant to be begins in the darkness while we move toward God.  “We are affected by darkness, therefore, where we are most deeply involved and committed, and what we love and care for most.” (Collected works of John of the Cross). I am comforted to know that John of the Cross understood my opening wondering of how to incarnate that posture in my day to day living in Advent; he has practical advice:

  trust, rest in God, stay with your experience, do not worry that prayer is not productive, be free and attentive.

That is a way to begin this Advent, acknowledging the darkness of all kinds, yet believing that God is present in all of them, I am called to pay attention, what Walter Burghardt calls, “a long, loving look at the real.” It is seeing with clarity the way the world is, from my perch; it is savoring the beauty of all that is around me–hummingbird, liquid amber tree, aging friend, irrepressible grandchild– as well as to take note of bitter sadness, unspeakable loss, and brokenness of heart. I can do that only because Advent readies us to see Light breaking into  our human condition and all its darkness and frailty and all its beauty and joy.  Advent is meant to grow our hope, to deepen our trust, to increase our joy.

Some of the darkness of my own confusion about Advent is dispelled with John’s wisdom. So, for this first week of Advent, I will pay attention to the real, knowing that darkness and light are the same to God; all is held and loved by the One who has come and is coming again!

O come, O Dayspring, from on high, and cheer us by your drawing nigh; disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadows put to flight. Rejoice! rejoice! Emmanuel  shall come to thee, O Israel.






Advent Blue 3: Longing for Joy
Two Hopes for Advent: Books that Inspire
Invitations on the Journey: Keep Moving
Invitations on the Journey: Walk with the Saints
About Elizabeth Nordquist

Elizabeth Nordquist is a Presbyterian pastor, teacher, and spiritual director who writes on women's issues, spirituality and Scripture, and what is happening in the world--hers, her neighborhood, the Church and the world. Each day she looks for ways in which the Spirit is moving in and around her.

  • Thom

    On this deep, dark, rainy NoCal day in Petaluma, I take heart in the coming Advent as represented by Oak Hill Labyrinth I walked yesterday afternoon (before the tumult), in the songs of Annie Lennox (her Christmas Cornucopia being much more an Advent album than any other “Christmas album” I know), and this… and YOU.

    The dark has descended indeed, but the light is here as well.

    Thanks… again.

  • Donald L. Smith

    Beautiful and thought provoking. Would love to hear your stories about Peggy – assuming she is one to whom you are referring. I’m a bit surprised at how bereft I feel at the news of her passing. I have such warm memories.

  • Barbara

    Barbara here, feeling uplifted as I am grounded in deep awareness that as the earth cools prayerfully we need it to cool, that the season of Advent is a time to embrace this dark that incubates life. Take this time to hope and offer what there is to our loving and gracious creator.

  • Erin


    You are a great purveyor of hope, even in the midst of the darkness. It is not ironic that daylight savings time plunges us into early darkness these shorten days. We want to “give into it” and yet…

    “I can do that only because Advent readies us to see Light breaking into our human condition and all its darkness and frailty and all its beauty and joy. Advent is meant to grow our hope, to deepen our trust, to increase our joy.”

    Thank you for your “working it out”. It helps me to work it out too.


  • Kristen B


    I love this post! All life is beautiful, even in the darkest of times. And you find out what your character is composed of when you’re tested. That’s why things get rough. He wants us to know who we are– this helps us learn.

    Rising up to the occasion is what it’s all about. It reminds me of this video I recently came across– it’s a cute little song about how Jesus and his followers actually Occupy Jerusalem.

    Anyways, here it is:

    Which, it has a point.

  • Sally H

    check out Mary Chapin Carpenter’s song, “Come Darkness, Come Light” There is a youtube video of her singing it if you haven’t heard it. My thoughts ths advent have gone in the same direction as some of yours… so this song has been meaningful to me.