Winter and Advent
Recently I’ve been hearing God remind me, “You’re made for all seasons.”
Winter has traditionally been a tougher season for me. I don’t love the darkness and I usually try to busy myself, fighting the natural call of Winter to slow down. I think I’m afraid of struggling with the ways darkness, rain, cold — coupled with slowing down — can make me feel. I cognitively recognize Winter’s graces and goodness, but I also bring some baggage. I sense the need to hear that I’m not just a fair-weather child of God.
As I stare out the window at the bare trees and cloudy sky, I can feel my mistrust, apprehension, and suspicion towards Winter fade, and I hear another reminder about myself: I bring my gifts to all seasons, and all seasons bring gifts to me.
One particular gift of this season is Advent. Advent begins this coming Sunday (November 28th), and this marks the start of the church calendar. I’ve had years where Advent is really meaningful and Christmas is a deeply beautiful culmination. I’ve also spent the season distracted and struggling to connect, where Christmas comes and goes without much heart recognition. Both types of experiences have taught me things.
I want to share with you two things that I’ve come back to in preparing for this year’s Advent season. The first is an Advent prayer by Henri Nouwen. It can be read superficially and religiously, but I encourage you to read it slowly and open-heartedly. Any sentence you find cliche just read again and breathe through it. Christmas is a strange time. We spend most of the year seeking to practice and remember how Jesus is right here — inside us, in our breath, all around us. And then Advent comes and we transition to “looking forward to his coming” and saying “come Lord Jesus.” Wait, I thought he was here? Both are true - he has come, and he is coming. It’s a season of mystery, much like Winter can be for me.
Here’s Henri’s prayer. I hope you’ll read slowly.
“Lord Jesus, master of both the light and the darkness, send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas. We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day. We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us. We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom. We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence. We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light. To you we say, ‘Come Lord Jesus!’”
So far this year, I’ve been intentionally trying to embrace the rain and increased darkness. In some ways Winter feels like a season of learning to let go, and, for me, a season of holding onto faith when I’m acutely aware of my lack of control. The light will return, and I don’t have to rush the process. To that end, here is a piece I found that captures my hope for Advent this year. Maybe you can relate. (By the way, it reminds me of the farm at Windrush!)
“Here at The Muddy Drumstick, the affectionate name of our hobby farm, we are doing the chores in the dark these days. This means donning a warm coat, tall boots, and a headlamp over a knit cap and then winding and wandering out to the barn. The headlamp, while useful, as it illuminates the path, does not light up anything else. In the dark, only what is right in front can be seen. I am oblivious to whatever dangers exist outside of the light I have. This is a grace only received later in life and after many such wanderings.
This trek each winter morning and night is a visceral reminder that the light I have is enough. It reminds me that growing trust requires quiet, consistent cultivation.
Once to the barn, the complaints of the goats, Sally and Abby, and the warm whinny of our horse, Pepper, welcome me. In the barn, hardwired electricity provides enough light to offer a few flakes of hay and a scoop of food to the barn cat, whose name is Lamp.
Pulling up a paint can to sit on, I turn off the lights and rest near to the animals while they eat and rub their warm bodies against mine as tokens of gratitude. Pepper’s huge frame and sweet, moist breath remind me that I’m not alone, even as the light fades and the dark envelops us. Lamp’s purr is an auditory cue that shalom has settled in. Indeed, all can be right in the world, even when sitting in the dark.
I am reminded that Advent is a season of increasing darkness. Up until the Winter Solstice on December 22 our natural light will continue to lessen. The dark is a gift to us. One that enlivens and awakens senses that have atrophied from lack of use. The dark heightens our awareness of what we could not, would not see in a barn or on a trail or in our lives. In the dark our vulnerabilities move to consciousness. Stillness and silence come naturally in the dark. Mystery fills the air.
In Exodus 20, just after Moses received the 10 Commandments and the people witness God’s power and splendor, there is darkness. The people come face to face with their vulnerabilities and the people distance themselves from the dark. Consequently, when they turn from the dark, they distance themselves from God. But Moses “drew near to the thick darkness where God was.” (Ex. 20:21)
During this season of Advent, what would it look like for you to draw near to the thick darkness where God is? What would it look like to create space for your vulnerabilities to emerge? Are there areas of trust that could be quietly cultivated through engagement with the dark? Enter into a conversation with God around what stirs in you. Honestly, the deep work in the dark can’t be done from our armchair, inside our houses, under our blankets. We can’t think our way into the deeper life. Is there a night this week, when you can bundle up and wander outside to breathe in the gifts of the dark?”
May Winter and Advent be seasons where we feel and hear God in new ways.
The reading is a 2019 post at Good Dirt Ministries: http://www.gooddirtministries.org/blog/2019/12/4/advent-what-is-it-about-the-dark