Nourished in Darkness: Tolerating Advent

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This article is re-posted from it’s original home on the Fratres Dei website! A big thank you to Fratres Dei for hosting my words onoce again and being my home base for spiritual direction for the last year.

Historically, I’ve chafed against Advent. As much as I love Christmas, It’s hard for me to observe a season devoted to light when darkness has so much to teach us, and gathering to celebrate prophecies fulfilled can feel hollow when there is still so much broken in the world. My memories of my two Decembers spent away at seminary are shadowy and fraught, despite punctuating moments of joy. Whether I was cramming for exams, trudging through the slush to chapel services, welcoming friends into my dorm room for tarot readings, or riding the train to my chaplaincy internship, I was followed by a creeping sense of isolation.

Did I really have a place at the Advent feast when my eyes and heart were so drawn to everything wild and magic outside the walls of the church? Was this the year I would realize I had wandered too far from tradition to call Christianity home anymore? And how could we celebrate God coming into the world in flesh when we know the story ends with Him leaving again?

My winters are no longer quite so fraught. I’ve given up worrying over whether or not I’m orthodox enough for the label “Christian”, and I’ve worked hard to let go of anxiety around what other people think of my and my spirituality. My understanding of sacred time is no longer shackled to my understanding of linear time, which has eased my anxiety around the Christmas story and allowed me to see it as part of an eternal, cyclical narrative. But as the air gets colder and the veil gets thinner, the angst of being a creature forever caught between the sacred and the profane, the esoteric and the ecclesial, can resurface. I often end up feeling like a guest in my own faith tradition, like an eccentric aunt welcome at Christmas dinner so long as she doesn’t give the children any strange ideas.

But this year, Advent arrived at my door like an old friend, eyes soft with the sadness of going so long between visits, arms bearing brandy and blessings. It found me weary from an emotional month moving house, starting a new job, and holding onto relationships by threads, and something inside me knew intuitively to open the door wide. Or maybe not something inside me, maybe it was all of me. Maybe my body knew that Advent promises rest and reflection in the comforting glow of Christmas lights, and my body knew how badly she needs that right now.

I’m finding God everywhere lately; in candles and dark nights and snowstorms and tarot cards and the heart-bruising work of loving other people. The unifying factor between all those little revelations is the way in which I have let my body lead. I draw near to what nourishes and take a few steps back from what makes me feel tense, tight, panicked, or disoriented. In seeking a sense of holistic balance in my life, I’m seeking balance in a very physical way as well; putting myself into surroundings and interacting with people that make me feel steady on my own two feet. In previous Decembers, my mind had plenty to keep it occupied and worried and whirring. This December, I let my body follow the contours of the Advent season at her own pace, without cross-examining her motives or beliefs. There’s no difference between listening to the little twinge in my chest that tells me to hand a couple of dollars to the carolers on the corner or savor my tea and the tugging sensation of being drawn to sit in front of the Christmas tree as a little girl and think on Jesus. The end result is a much gentler, reflective, and enchanted Advent experience.

For the first time in years, I feel secure enough in my spiritual path to simply experience the season. I don’t crave the acceptance of others because I have done my shadow work, followed my signs, and built my own home where loved ones can find spiritual healing and rest.

This year, I toast the ancient darkness of Yule and the illumination that bursts forth in the here-but-not-yet of Christ’s coming. The wheel turns, the cards fall, magic stirs beneath the earth thick as a river of blood, and the fire at the heart of Christmas burns and burns but is not consumed. And I, for my part, am at peace.

Where will listening to the impulses of your body and spirit lead you this Advent season? Here are some ideas.

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