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.

Reclaiming Our Attention from the Distortion Machine

This is a reprint of a guest post I wrote for the Fratres Dei blog. Be sure to pay some love forward and check out Rachel’s amazing blog about embodied spirituality and contemplation in the material world!

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Social media is kind of my thing. I met my future spouse through Tumblr, I’m an author who promotes her work on Twitter, and, as some of you may know, I’m the digital communications manager for Fratres Dei Spiritual Direction & Ministries.

Thoroughly a product of the digital age, I’ve been privileged to witness the best social media has to offer. I’ve seen friendships forged, beautiful art created, valuable information exchanged, and online spaces for religious expression blossom. However, I’ve also lost weeks of my life to mindless scrolling, been “dragged” and “cancelled”, participated in unwarranted digital pile-ons I still regret, and woken up in a cold sweat from nightmares about being doxxed.

Sometimes, friends, the internet is bad.

At the start of 2019, I knew that something about my relationship to social media had to change. As an increasingly public figure, I was placing too much of my worth in my public persona. My attention was becoming more and more fragmented, and time on social media was the only “leisure” time I was allowing myself away from my day job and writing, even though I viewed social as just another form of work. I had no inner life I didn’t perform for the internet. My prayer life was nonexistent, because I couldn’t sit still that long, much less devote intentional time to something that didn’t have an immediate material benefit or reward.

But what do you do when the internet feels like an increasingly essential, increasingly centralized feature of the human experience, and if, as for many of us, being active on the web is part of your job?

Common sense advises moderation, but I’ve never been good at finding balance. As I started listening to podcasts about the effects of social media and reading Cal Newport’s phenomenal Digital Minimalism, I realized this isn’t a Sarah-specific compulsion. The majority of Americans have a disordered relationship with social media. Like a gaslighting lover, social demands a glance at our phones every spare moment, yet convinces us to consistently underestimate how many hours a day we devote to the tryst. And as we uncover more about how social media is configured to work on our brains the same way slot machines do, keeping eyes on screens for as many minutes as possible to turn the highest profits for companies, whether or not those minutes wreck our sense of self, warp our view of our political reality, or urge us to throw money down the drain on products we would never otherwise want…The straits get a bit more dire.

As this year’s Lenten season commenced, I felt that gentle nudge, that divine voice in the back of my head saying here’s your chance. A chance to pull the plug on social for forty days and re-set my inner schema. It wouldn’t be a total fast, since I do spend a handful of hours a week managing the Fratres Dei social, but there would be no more browsing, posting, or scrolling from my own accounts for the rest of Lent.

By and large, I’ve taken God up on the offer, and the results have been quietly astounding. First of all, the jittery fear of missing out (on what? Malicious gossip and highlight reel announcements of rivals’ successes and the thousandth click-bait headline heralding society’s demise?) faded in about a week. What followed was overwhelming relief that I didn’t have to care about it all. Human empathy is a divine gift, and social media constantly exhausts it. We swing wildly from outrage to apathy, which makes it hard for us to be attentive and compassionate towards the real needs that surround us. Secondly, I got time back I didn’t even know I had lost. I started finding hours to cook big, wholesome meals while listening to audiobooks, and since I didn’t have the illusion of connection from seeing friend’s Instagram posts all the time, I started calling them a lot more. But most of all, I got my focus back.

The fragmented attention created by the noise of social media is really no attention at all. Conversation with a friend, playing with a child, reading a book, and especially listening for the stirrings of God in our lives require real, sustained attention. Constantly flipping from platform to platform, or article to article, trains our brains to make only the most cursory skim of information. Re-training the brain takes time, but we can start by setting aside hours of our day where we leave our phones on the charger, whether we’re out for a run, meeting someone for coffee, or scribbling idea in a notebook. It’s only in these moments of receptivity that God can press in with soft revelations, interesting food for thought, or divine encouragement.

I observe both the church calendar and the wheel of the year, a cycle of seasonal holidays used by Wiccans and other earthy types. The wheel’s holidays usually involve baking, candle-lighting, handicraft, and other things I love to do but never seem to have time for. But when the spring equinox rolled around during Lent, I suddenly had the time, and without the pressure to post aesthetically pleasing pictures and a description of my practice online for the edification of the masses, I didn’t experience the usual sense of poor planning or inadequacy. So, I pulled out the yellow candles, put a bit of soda bread and calendula tea out on my altar, and said some prayers praising God for light, and for new life. The ritual existed for no one except me and God, and that, I found, was empowering. For the first time in a long time I didn’t worry about how I looked or if I was doing “enough”. I just followed my intuition and listened for God.

Like chocolate, long naps, sex, and whisky sours, social media is good, if used in intentional moderation that doesn’t throw off the balance of the rest of our lives. It should be a tool that we use, not a corporate-run outrage machine that uses us for clicks and buys. Philippians calls the faithful to turn their thoughts towards “whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable”. Personally, I find that hard to do when I spend hours a day being fed an inane stream of war crime, advertisement, callout post, wedding pictures, advertisement, human rights violation, cat picture, bad faith political meme, advertisement through my smart phone.

Now, I haven’t jumped off the social media bandwagon entirely. In a move I hope my audience will find charmingly meta I’m currently denouncing social media in a social media post, after all. But for now, I’m enjoying being time-rich and having the space to simply notice my emotions, my relationship to space, and my own breath. I’ve been noticing God a lot more too, not because God wasn’t there when I was scrolling or posting, but simply because I was too tapped in to digital white noise to notice.

Yearning to take better notice of the divine already in your midst? Learn to listen with a spiritual direction session with Fratres Dei.

CATCH ME ON THE LATEST EPISODE OF THE PRAYER TO GO PODCAST!

In case you need a ten-minute shot of encouragement, pop in your earbuds and listen to me talk about writing as a spiritual practice, the catharsis of being angry with God, and good representation in books as a ministry. If you like it, be sure to check out the other awesome episodes in Carolyn’s series on creativity, or her bite-sized prayers for use with yoga, silence, a latte, or a rosary.

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On iTuneshttps://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/prayer-to-go/id1435044569?mt=2

On the PTG Websitehttps://prayertogo.blubrry.net/2018/10/23/024-pen-and-paper-writing-as-a-spiritual-practice/

ODD SPIRITS is on 99¢ sale through the month of October!

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This novella will be on sale for the ghoulishly low price of $5.99 for paperbacks and 99¢ for e-copies until All Hallows Eve. You’ll never see it at a lower price, so grab your ticket to flirty tarot readings, folk religion, and mysterious hauntings today! 

It takes a lot of commitment to make a marriage between a modern ceremonial magician and a chaos witch work, but when a malevolent entity takes up residence in Rhys and Moira’s home, their love will be pushed to the limits. Brewing up a solution is easier said than done when your magical styles are polar opposites; throw a psychic ex and a secret society in the mix, and things are bound to get messy.

This diverse paranormal romance novella is perfect for fans of The Raven Cycle and The Haunting of Hill House!

“Like a lovingly-prepared home-cooked meal, Odd Spirits compels its reader to both devour and savor…Gibson’s background as a poet allows her to deftly create richly-drawn little moments.” –Rouges Portal

See what people are saying about the novella on Goodreads!

FIENDS has arrived!

THE FIENDS IN THE FURROWS anthology, featuring my Southern Gothic story “Revival”, is available now in ebook and paperback!

Growing up as a girl in a conservative religious community is challenging, especially when you’re the bastard child of a snake-handling Pentecostal preacher and a Catholic waitress. Considered unclean by the congregation and her grandfather, the fearsome Reverend, because of her affinity for the church’s’ venomous snakes, eight-year-old Callie Ann spends most of her time feeding crickets and mice to her only friends.

 But as the Reverend’s sinister hold on his rapt flock grows, so does Callie’s connection to her dead mother, and a dark prophecy begins to take shape. 

What People Are Saying

“Revival finds that old time religion venomously snaking its way back, to the peril of those who would dare to dance with vipers and tempt Fate itself.”

“Gibson’s Revival was like THE BAD SEED set to a religious hymn (that’s a good thing)”

If you’re craving some grimy gothic goodness with your brave little girls toppling abusive religious hierarchies, add FIENDS to your Goodreads TBR! Also be sure to subscribe to my intermittent author newsletter to stay in the loop about new publications, giveaways, and flash sales!  🕸🐍🌾💀

Odd Spirits is Available for Purchase

Welcome to publication day! Odd Spirits is now available for digital purchase in the Amazon kindle store and (if you don’t feel like giving Jeff Bezos 30% of your purchase) on Smashwords for only $2.99! That’s less than your morning latte!

It takes a lot of commitment to make a marriage between a modern ceremonial magician and a chaos witch work, but when a malevolent entity takes up residence in Rhys and Moira’s home, their love will be pushed to the limits. Brewing up a solution is easier said than done when your magical styles are polar opposites; throw a psychic ex and a secret society in the mix, and things are bound to get messy.

This diverse paranormal romance novella is perfect for fans of The Raven Cycle and The Haunting of Hill House.odd spirits

Can I read the digital copy without an e-reader? Absolutely! You can read it on your phone, laptop, or tablet for free without any special software

I only read print books. Will there be a paperback edition? Yes! As soon as Amazon approves my submission we will be in the paperback business. I will also be selling print copies direct from me if you prefer to bypass Amazon and get a free autograph out of the deal.

I pre-ordered a book and my order was cancelled? Sorry to hear that! Due to technichal difficulties, Amazon cancelled and refunded many pre-orders. DM and I’ll get you hooked up with your copy!

I’m strapped for cash right now; is there any other way I can support you? Reblogging this post is a great help to me! Also, if you’ve received a copy of the book, reviews on Amazon and Goodreads are a blessing to me.

I’d like to donate some spare change to your writing so you can turn out more books. Do you have a Patreon? Yes! Every donation helps, even one dollar, and I’ve got cute bat-themed prizes for my Patrons.

Thanks for your support, and happy reading!

Hey Book Lovers!

Anyone out there want a free e-copy of ODD SPIRITS in exchange for an honest review on their blog/social media and Amazon?

It takes a lot of commitment to make a marriage between a modern ceremonial magician and a chaos witch work, but when a malevolent entity takes up residence in Rhys and Moira’s home, their love will be pushed to the limits. Brewing up a solution is easier said than done when your magical styles are polar opposites; throw a psychic ex and a secret society in the mix, and things are bound to get messy.

Think The Haunting of Hill House meets The Raven Cycle with a multicultural married couple and LGBTQ protags. The book is novella length at just under 100 pages, so it’s a perfect weekend read.

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Comment below or shoot me a message at sarahtaylorgibson@gmail.com if you’re interested and I’ll hook you up, no strings attached! E-copies will be sent out early next week.

Non-book bloggers, make sure to mark Odd Spirits as to-read on Goodreads,and keep your eyes peeled for a super-steal sale on pre-orders coming in just a few days!