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Posts Tagged ‘longing’

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I expected to be so ready for Advent this year.

After a full, demanding fall semester and a bruising election cycle, I thought I’d be eager to sink into my favorite liturgical season: the readings, the carols, the longing and candlelight and hope. But at church on the first Sunday of Advent (after our wonderful Turkeypalooza), I still felt hopeless and tired and sad, even as we sang “O Come O Come Emmanuel.”

That evening, sitting on the floor at my friend Amy’s house, I admitted how I felt. We were working on the backdrop for the church Christmas pageant: hot-gluing uneven blocks of dark green felt to a bolt of midnight blue fabric, scattering handfuls of sticky, glittery stars overhead. “I think I need to sit in the darkness a while longer,” Amy said, and I nodded. I didn’t feel ready to start lighting candles yet.

The next day, I walked across the Yard to Morning Prayers, where a divinity student gave a talk on tenderness. “Let us be raw a while longer,” she said gently, urging us to sit with our pain – and the world’s – rather than glossing over it. We also sang “O Come O Come Emmanuel,” and I hummed it as I walked to work afterward, the Civil Wars version in my earbuds.

It feels right for Advent to come slowly this year: we are working through more pain and darkness, on a national scale, than I can remember in a long time. The questions raised by my favorite Advent writers – Henri Nouwen, Kathleen Norris, Madeleine L’Engle, Alfred Delp – feel more pertinent than they ever have. I have been reluctant to skip over the ache to the joy, even as I’ve loved seeing twinkle lights and Christmas trees appear around Cambridge and in my friends’ homes.

Since I discovered it as a high school student, Advent has given me a way to wrestle with the questions of my faith: to look the darkness of this world steadily in the face, and to appreciate why we need the Light. I usually relish the ache of it, the haunting, lovely longing for Christ to come, for God to burst into the world and begin making all things new. But this year, everything already feels so dark. And I keep wondering: what good can our candles, anyone’s candles, possibly do?

Despite my weariness (and wariness), Advent keeps sneaking in, sidling up with quiet steps when I’m not quite paying attention. There is the Sylvia Plath poem whose inclusion in my favorite Advent book surprises and delights me every year. There are the annual Advent readings hosted by my friends Hannah and Chris, where we gather for poetry and hot cider and good talk in their cozy living room. There are the quiet carols (my favorite ones), which end up in my head almost by accident. And there are moments of connection with colleagues and friends, even in the midst of daily tasks and deeper sadness.

I am (finally) edging into the season: we put up our tree this weekend, and hung the greenery at church on Saturday. I am humming a few beloved carols, dipping into my Advent books, and watching for the light, whether literal (as above) or metaphorical, any place I can find it.

How are you finding the light – whether you’re observing Advent or not – in this season?

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Lighting our candles

candle red berries penguin

Light your candles quietly, such candles as you possess, wherever you are.

—Alfred Delp

I am lighting a lot of candles these days.

We are into the short days of December, and while several of them (so far) have blazed with sunshine and brilliant blue skies, it’s still nearly pitch dark by five o’clock. The twinkling lights of our two Christmas trees (one big, one tiny) are helping to combat the darkness of the long evenings, but even so I find myself reaching for the lighter on a regular basis, hearing the click-click and smiling as the flame springs into life.

charles river clouds boston

Last week, I took a lunchtime walk along the Charles River, which glinted gray and silver under a sky chased with fitful clouds. I stumbled onto a small monastery whose existence I had only learned about recently. I slipped into its tiny chapel, set with jewel-like stained-glass windows, and I lit a candle, one in a row of flickering tealights set in a wrought-iron rack.

I wanted to murmur a prayer for our world, which is hurting so badly in so many ways, and in the end I couldn’t. I had no words. I let that tiny flame, joined with its fellows in that small stone chapel, express my plea: Lord, have mercy.

“I simply get to work on ordinary things,” Sarah wrote in a blog post a few weeks ago. “This is all I know to do when I don’t know what to do.” I think about her words almost daily, as I go about my own ordinary work.

I make the bed every morning with my husband’s grandmother’s quilt. I wash last night’s dishes while the kettle is boiling for my first cup of tea. I sort and wash laundry, lug it downstairs to the basement, haul it back up when it’s dry, fold it and put it away. I make grocery lists, errand lists, to-do lists, and work through them, slowly.

I peel a clementine for an afternoon snack, buy Christmas gifts, answer emails. I drink chai and more chai from Darwin’s, scribbling a few lines in my journal if there’s time. I write – news stories, book reviews, social media posts – and edit and proofread till my eyes hurt.

I come home and I need to plunge my hands into a sink of soapy water, or a batch of scone dough or a tangle of yarn. Or I need to simply sit in front of our Christmas tree with yet another mug of tea or mulled cider. And a candle burning nearby.

There is a lot of joy in this ordinary work. And there is also – at times like this – a feeling of helplessness.

christmas tree living room

 

What can I do about the headlines, the scenes of terror and tragedy on every side, the constant shouting in the halls of power that drowns out the tears of those who mourn? Not much, honestly. I can’t change anything for the families who are grieving, for the refugees without a home, even for my friend whose baby has been sick or other friends who are walking through dark times. I’m not a doctor, or a magician. I can’t do much. But I can light a candle on my kitchen table while I scrub pots and pans and make a meal to nourish myself and my love.

We are deep into the season of Advent, and even if you are not Christian, or religious, the world seems to be waiting for something. We are aching for peace, for reconciliation, for an end to the violence and anger that threatens to overwhelm anyone who picks up a newspaper or turns on the TV. We are desperate for solutions to these seemingly intractable problems, and we yell at each other because we don’t know how to fix things, how to move forward in the wake of so much loss.

It seems a small thing, to make a pot of soup, or a cup of tea. To go to a friend’s house on a Tuesday night, share a meal, trade stories and laughter, and read aloud the words of Luke and Isaiah. To spend Saturday morning wrapping potted poinsettias in gold paper, hanging pine garlands around the doorways at church. To text a friend, to share something funny or joyous or exciting, or simply to say, I’m here.

It seems small. But it’s what I can do.

As we turn toward the solstice and the nights grow ever longer, as the headlines continue to shout reminders of how broken and raw the world is, as I deal with continuing struggles and uncertainty of my own, you can find me here. Reading the words of hope and expectation in my Advent book, listening to the carols that thrill me with their longing and joy, sitting in the silence and taking a deep breath.

And then going about my quiet, unglamorous, ordinary work. Lighting the candles I possess, while I wait for the Light of the world to come again.

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