“The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come.” ~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Take a look at the first picture. This is the artwork which I made a few years ago for a city centre celebration in Bradford. I wanted to focus on the love and care of the holy family, the simplicity of their lives as opposed to the consumerism I saw everywhere about me. The second picture shows a piece called Stay. This was made for an exhibition based on the Nativity where each artist was given an element of the story. I was given the stable. I chose to focus on the plight of refugees across our world, who similarly to the holy family, have no place to stay. Each of the 31 little ‘stables’ or tents contained one of the 31 reasons that UK immigration give for unconditional right to remain, or ‘leave of stay’. I wanted to call attention to the burgeoning refugee crisis at the time, which is continuing to this day, as we have seen in the terrible treatment of people at Calais and when crossing the North Sea this year.
I write these meditations a month ahead and sometimes it’s difficult to gauge what might be most relevant when they finally go live. So here I am in early November writing about Advent. Having said that, it seems Christmas is coming early this year. My family and my parents in law hold an annual competition to see who can first spot a domestic Christmas tree; one erected and decorated inside someone’s home. And my son has already won this year with a fully lit up number in a flat near where he lives in Southampton. I’ve seen my fair share of Christmas lights on houses around here too. it seems people cannot wait for Christmas. Maybe it’s the need to have some cheer, especially in our second national lockdown but without the benefit of the beautiful spring weather which the last one gave us.
Advent is the Christian season of waiting for Christmas, rather like Lent is the period of time that leads up to Easter. Like Lent, Advent traditionally is a period of reflection, an opportunity to focus on our inner lives and on the spiritual. But for most of us, this period of penance is stuffed full of preparations, parties and present buying. It is in fact the busiest time of the year rather than an opportunity to pause and consider.
I read recently that for humans, even the anticipation of hope improves our ability to cope by boosting vital endorphins in our bodies. The word Advent means ‘coming’, it is about an anticipation of joy and hope. Rather like delayed gratification, there is an acknowledgement that it will be worth the wait, but that the wait itself makes it worthwhile. Maybe this is a good symbol for the times we are living through. That there is something about the process of living through the pandemic that can teach us new things, offer us the chance to consider and reflect on how we have been living, and hopefully change them for the better, rethink our society and how we live on this precious planet. That is my Christmas hope and its worth much more than any other gift.
Take time to look at the pictures and consider these questions:
- What have you learnt through the waiting of this year?
- What do you hope for?
- What lightens your life as the year draws to a close?
You will need a candle and matches or lighter
- Find a private space in your home
- Light your candle and spend some time looking at the flame
- Watch how it moves, changes with drafts, how it lights up its surroundings
- If you like, use the following prayer
I light a candle for the past
I bring my memories, both joyful and sad
I light a candle for the present
I bring today and all that concerns me
I light a candle for the future
I bring my hopes and dreams
Acknowledging the divine
Today, tomorrow and always, Amen