Epiphany seems like a good time to write about Advent, right?
Advent this year has been extraordinary for me. Maybe because, in hindsight, it really started at the beginning of November. I guess I could say that this year Advent had its own Advent!
At the beginning of November, Barry and I embarked on an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime trip. My first time to Europe. Our first cruise. Our first time on a sailing ship (literally, it had sails!). Our first transatlantic crossing. Our first time visiting eight southeastern Caribbean islands. My first significant seasickness. Our first time having the time to make friends on holiday. Our first time seeing the sun set with no land in sight, and seeing the same sun rise still with no visible evidence of land on the earth. My first time swimming on a beach made entirely of crushed and not so crushed seashells. My first time taking a physical Advent journey.
We got home from our travels on December 3, the first day of Advent. It was people in my spiritual community talking about Advent that got me thinking about how our trip as an Advent journey. People were talking about being instead of doing. The days leading up to Christmas in our culture can be astoundingly busy. There is a whole of doing that makes it hard to just be. This got me thinking about how I had intended to do thing while on a boat far from home and nowhere to go. I thought I would do a lot of writing. After a few days of not writing, but having opportunity to do lots of other things I’d never done before, the Life-Giving Spirit showed me that I was in a season of receiving. This trip and everything in it was a gift. Receiving is being and this trip was about receiving/being, not giving/doing.
And that distinction is the basis of the Advent journey. The first weeks of the liturgical year are a season of receiving from the Divine Family. All the hope, the peace, the joy, the love that we need to be filled to overflowing is poured out during Advent. Then, from our abundance, we are able to give for the rest of the year. On our trip, I entered into receiving joyfully. When I felt the rise of the ‘shoulds’ in my mind (“you should be writing,” “you should be doing something productive,” etc.), I tried instead to be aware of what was being given so I could receive. I said yes to thing I normally would talk myself out of, and had fun! I met fantastic people, I ate great food, I saw wonderful things. And when we got home there wasn’t a crash of disappointment that we were no longer somewhere warm and amazing doing no work. There was joy! Like, happiness, energy, light!
For a number of years, I have not truly enjoyed the Christmas season. As mother and grandmother of a growing family, I feel responsible to organize, arrange, and assure that Christmas expectations are met. And that requires a lot of doing. I have wanted to enter into the Advent season and just be, but I just hadn’t figured out how. This year the Divine Family gave me an Advent for my Advent: I was filled up with hope, peace, joy, and love so I could give from that abundance. For the first time in years, preparations for Christmas were not just 89 more things on the to-do list. I enjoyed thinking about ways to bless my family. I had fun planning a couple of parties to get together with beloved friends. I threw caution to the wind and reveled. The expectations I put on myself fell away. I was free to make a list but not get everything done, to only cook one vegetable for Christmas dinner, to not pay attention to sugar for a while. To stop judging myself. I gave of the overflowing abundance I received in Advent’s Advent.
The real mystery is that in all that doing, I was being more than ever. I did do a lot this Advent season. But in learning to receive during my Advent’s Advent, I could more easily receive during regular Advent. I think of the difference in two scenarios: in one scenario, a business executive is on their way to a meeting. They’re in a hurry, their mind busying making the transition from what they’ve been doing to the meeting’s agenda. As they pass by their assistant’s desk, the assistant hands them the folder of documents needed for the meeting. The executive says a quick thanks while already opening the folder and walking away. In the other scenario, a father opens a gift from his child. It’s Christmas morning and there’s a lot going on. The father reads the tag to see who the gift is from. He smiles. “This is going to be good!” he thinks as he tears off the wrapping. He takes the gift out of the box and smiles wider. “Thank you! I love it!” he exclaims, looking in his child’s eyes with tears in his own.
Each scenario takes just moments in time, but are vastly different. Like the executive, I can receive from the Divine Family, say a genuine thank you and keep moving. Or, like the father, I can acknowledge who the gift is from and the love that surrounds it, take in its special chosen-ness, fully engage with the giver, and love the gift. I think we’ve all met someone who, in a moment, can convey with a “Thank you!” that they have learned to receive, and with each gift, however small or insignificant, are truly grateful. In that moment of receiving they are being in a way that many people cannot. During Advent’s Advent, the Divine Family gave me the great give of knowing what it is to receive, to be.
Photo: We’re Both Here! (Somewhere on the Atlantic) – Heather Holtslander