Beginning Advent in an Unusual Year
This weekend we are beginning Advent in an unusual year.
Each year shares things with other years, and each year is unique. Every season of Advent begins a new liturgical year.
The first season in the liturgical year is Advent. It is a season of preparation and anticipation for Christmas. Advent focuses on recognizing what is sacred in everyday life and it sets the tone for the rest of the year.
We use everyday things to remind ourselves about spiritual life all around us and within us. Light and water, candles and bread, music, wine, and words help us remember and see life in new places.
Beginning Advent starts slowly. Like the dawn of each new morning, beginning Advent each year reminds us daylight has not gone away; we just do not see it yet. Our liturgical year, all of spiritual life, is filled with opportunities to remind ourselves the light is still there.
This has been a particularly dark year for many of us. Some of us have lost people we loved, jobs we loved, plans and dreams we loved. Many of us have spent more time alone this year than any other year we can remember.
Beginning Advent this year it will be a challenge for us to remember the light is still here. How, and why, will we anticipate and prepare for Christmas this year? Will Christmas still come this year, or ever again?
Is there still spiritual life to find when our everyday lives are so different?
Where can we anticipate hope and joy in this unusually dark year?
What will beginning Advent in this unusual year require of us?
Are there ways for us to light candles in the darkness which threatens to overwhelm us this year?
Will Beginning Advent Help?
Some people believe spiritual life is about not making any mistakes and having a perfect record. Spiritual life is, in fact, about starting over again and again and again. We learn from mistakes. One of the most important things we learn is to keep beginning again.
Spiritual life is a series of new beginnings and fresh starts.
Each year, each month, each week, each day is an opportunity to begin again. Every moment, every step can be a fresh start.
Year after year, our calendar comes around to Advent. Each time, we learn new lessons and remind ourselves of truths we have discerned before. Each year, we begin again.
Beginning Advent reminds us we do not need to carry around the times we have failed or fallen short. Spiritual life is not about meeting expectations, even our own expectations. We do not earn spiritual life by avoiding mistakes, or even by making up for what we may have done.
Advent reminds us spiritual life is not balancing our strengths and our flaws. Spiritual life fills us and the world around us. Advent helps us remember the light which shines in the darkness and how we reflect it. Beginning Advent reminds us neither our words nor our actions give us spiritual life; they reflect the life within us.
We begin to see the spiritual life in us reflected on the screen in front of us.
Advent helps us anticipate without rushing.
We light one candle the first week, another the next week, and another the next. When all the candles are lit they are not even. Advent reminds us of how we have waited and prepared in anticipation.
Above all, Advent is about combining the challenges and the joy which come from waiting and preparing in anticipation.
Beginning Advent in Dark Times
Beginning Advent is a gift to us when hope is in short supply.
Each year as the nights grow darker and colder, we receive the gift of a new Advent. We begin to see light shining in the darkness which the darkness cannot overcome.
When we are frustrated and tired, staggering with heavy burdens, beginning Advent is about hope.
There is still hope when we have been waiting longer than we can remember. Advent is about hope when we are no longer sure we believe in what we hope will happen. It is about hope when we are not sure we can continue hoping.
Beginning Advent reminds us, even in the darkness of the longest night, light still shines for us.
Advent reminds us that in our pain and loss, darkness and cold, there is new birth.
This is the challenge of beginning Advent in this unusually hard year.
Advent is about hope which comes when we stop trying to convince ourselves we are doing well. We take a deep breath, close our eyes, and remember our hope.
Beginning Advent helps us remember our hope in the darkness before the dawn.
Beginning Advent as a Practice
We begin Advent, again and again, each day. Every morning, and afternoon, is full of opportunities for beginning Advent.
It can be easy for us to miss ways to choose beginning Advent. We get caught up in the important things on our own calendars, all the ways we are used to behaving. Some of us like feeling our days are planned and organized. We rush past ways to begin Advent which tend to get in our way.
Others of us are busy feeling sorry for ourselves, or for the world around us. It is easy for us not to pay attention to the possibilities for Advent all around us.
We need to find reminders of the season which help us remember our intentions.
Taking time to light a candle each week can help us recognize the possibilities of beginning Advent again. Some of us remind ourselves by opening a door on an Advent calendar. The taste of chocolate helps us remember what Advent is all about.
Each of us needs to find our own, personal ways to begin Advent again.
When will we be beginning Advent this weekend?
How will we continue beginning Advent in this unusual year?
[Image by Jon Åslund]
Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor and coach in Southern California. He has served as an assistant district attorney, an associate university professor, and is 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.