I’ve mentioned a few times here that I have had a shaky relationship with the holidays in the past. This year, even as we approach the one year anniversary of my Dad’s death on December 23rd, has been fundamentally different.
In the past I resisted the hullabaloo of the holidays altogether – partly out of Grinchly attitudes and partly due to being a highly sensitive person in an increasingly loud and lit-up world. It turns out, now that I am reflecting on it, that my resistance to the Christmas hullaballoo (waiting to put the tree up, delaying Christmas music, holding off on the treats) was also a remnant of the Christianity of my childhood. Now, don’t get all skittish on me, this isn’t a piece about religion, so just hang in there. I’m going somewhere that applies to all of us, I promise.
In the Episcopal church of my childhood, the season of Advent was well-attended. Advent is made up of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas and is seen as a time of preparation, of expectation. Most folks would assume that meant getting ready for Christmas, but Advent demands something deeper, as is reflected by the hymns that were saved specifically for this time of year. Advent is a time of quiet, of inward reflection, of questioning, of facing the dark (externally and internally), and of preparing for something new. This changes the whole Christmas and holiday scenario quite a bit.
These weeks before Christmas can be reserved by anyone of any faith tradition as an opportunity to engage in the deep inner-work of creating new life, because that’s what this holiday season is about. Christian or not, we can all appreciate the notion that there is a time for acknowledging what is past, releasing what is broken, asking ourselves what will be required of us next, and then consider the possibility for change. We can claim the time, space, and quiet to examine the life that IS and then consciously create something new.
The rush to the sparkly parts of the season push us past the dark work of the soul that can be so difficult but so transformative. The rush to the physical preparation for the season and the intensely over-scheduled calendars leave no time for examination, for contemplation, for internal preparation. It is all about the wrapping paper. Just as we rush to the celebrations of the season (and the retailers push the start date earlier and earlier), so too do we try to rush to the trappings/accessories/feelings of a better life without doing the personal and contemplative work that actually promotes the change that is available to all of us.
Sometimes the need for change requires action, don’t misunderstand me. I have several digital feeds that keep me on top of political actions I should take without the benefit of deep and lasting contemplation. But the work of the soul, the work of creating an internal and external world that we want to live in, the work of recreating ourselves and our lives? THAT requires more than a cheerful song and a sugar cookie, and in our hustle bustle world, the opportunity for that kind of work must be created by individuals who desire it.
How do we create those opportunities? We say no. We say no to being totally overbooked. We say no to filling all of the space with music and decorations. We say no to filling every minute of our day with the physical preparations for the season and reserve some time for the quiet work of self-examination and the self-inquiry that creates the space to create new life.
I’ve already put my tree up, as it is perhaps my very favorite part of the holiday season. The beauty of it makes me catch my breath. And it makes an excellent companion as I sit, in the darkness of December, and turn my thoughts to what is to come.