What is Advent All About?
It could all be because we are afraid of the dark, or fear running out of time.
Our darkness grows as we enter the final month of the year and approach its end. Each year ends in a race to see which will run out first, time or light. The physical world is apparently not designed to reinforce our comfort and security.
Many of us try to ignore our fears by entering what we call The Holiday Season.
Though it arrives every year, we are never really prepared for The Holiday Season.
We leap into a frenzy which helps us numb our anxiety and lose track of our discomfort. With so many things which need doing there is not enough time to experience each one. The Holiday Season blends together, becoming just another excuse to spend and consume. We lose ourselves in a rush of costumes and candy, turkey and football, carols and trees.
We transfer our anxiety and fear, blaming it on The Holiday Season. People talk about “getting through” or even “surviving” The Holiday Season.
Advent is the opposite of all of that.
Advent is taking time to prepare and anticipate. It is not the anticipation of eagerly reaching forward, trying to hasten the arrival of the present, the gift, the payoff. It is the savoring of the anticipation, recognizing it and letting each day teach us its lessons. Advent is rooted in mindfulness of the present moment, not our desire for the future or regret about the past.
Advent teaches us to anticipate without rushing.
Above all, Advent is about combining the challenges and joy that come from waiting and preparing in anticipation. We are quiet enough to listen, yet expectant enough to continue.
Advent gives us ways to prepare and get ready for what we anticipate.
Advent’s Joyful Anticipation
Some of us tend to think of anticipation as a competitive advantage. We try to anticipate our competition’s next move or what obstacles we might face next.
Anticipation is a strategic strength which takes us closer to achieving our goals.
The anticipation in Advent is a little different.
People who practice Advent anticipate and prepare for receiving great joy.
Individuals and groups who value Advent are looking forward to receiving a great gift. Their gifts are not presents under a tree. The shopping and buying of The Holiday Season tend to distract us from Advent.
Advent is about the spiritual life and meaning which underlies the economic activity. We practice savoring deep, sacred truths in the midst of all the distractions. It can be easy for us to get lost, frustrated, and frazzled until we miss what is most important.
Advent is about finding ways to remind ourselves of the deeper reasons underneath everyday life.
Advent’s anticipation is not about overcoming a competitor or an obstacle. The anticipation in Advent has more to do with moving us into the blessings waiting for us. We spend time each day practicing being open to receive.
Most of us spend more time wanting than being open to the possibility of receiving. Our focus is on what we desire and the specific ways we expect to receive it. It can be easy for us to close ourselves off in our focus and miss the very thing we desire.
We get caught up in paying attention to what we lack. Our attention is distracted and we miss the blessings we do receive.
How Do We Practice Advent?
While there are traditional ways to practice Advent, we each participate in our own ways.
Some of us practice on a daily basis with an Advent Calendar. Many calendars have little doors which we can open each day. Every door opens to reveal a treat for that day.
We open one door each day, and receive the treat that day. It is not about opening all the doors and eating all the candy all at once. Advent is about savoring each piece.
Each day is a step on the spiritual journey through the season. Every day is its own reward.
Other people prefer to practice on a weekly basis with an Advent Wreath. Wreaths include a circle of greens and four candle holders spread evenly around the circle. Another candle is places in the center of the wreath.
A different candle is lit each week during Advent until all four are lit during the fourth week.
We light one candle the first week, another the next week, and another the next. Slowly, when it is time, all of the candles are lit. Even then they are not even and remind us how we have waited and prepared in our anticipation.
In addition to these traditional ways, people develop their own ways to practice Advent.
Our practices are personal to remind us each to practice anticipation in our own ways.
Our Own Personal Advent
Some of us follow practices because our family or our friends or our church tells us to follow them. We may participate in Advent because we participate in a group which practices it.
Practices convey certain meanings to us when we follow them together. Some of us even practice silent prayer together with groups of other people. It can be good and supportive to develop these practices.
Even the spiritual practices we follow in groups depend on our own personal practice.
We may gain distinct benefits or lessons by following a practice with a group of people. Each of us will have our own unique experience of the practice.
In the season of Advent, each of us gains our own experience of joyful anticipation. Our practice is distilled through our own experience and reflection. Each of us is savoring and anticipating our own personal joys.
How will we take time to savor today?
What is being prepared in us this week?
When can we anticipate without needing to rush?
[Image by Dace Kiršpile]
Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor and leadership coach in Southern California. He is a recovering attorney and university professor, and a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is StrategicMonk.com, and his email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.