Last week I talked to a circle of children about the meaning of Advent and how the Ancient people tried to trick the sun into thinking that it was springtime, or summertime.
No matter how hectic our lives are, chances are we try to do something to celebrate the holiday season. Because even if has been bad for us, that must mean that something disappointed us once during a holiday season that was supposed to be about huddling closer in the darkness and figuring out ways to bring comfort into our small and sometimes helpless lives.
I believe we should be like the Ancient peoples and claim this time for what it is – a time to take refuge from the insistence and pressures of culture. We can claim this time to celebrate, yes. The triumph becomes in what we do while waiting. Advent. How do we learn to celebrate with each other even in darkness?
When there is darkness, we cannot see. Or rather, in the dark, it is difficult to see what may be right in front of us. Our eyes cannot make out the shape, the color, the texture or even the location when darkness surrounds. For some while in darkness, what can be least seen is the capacity within ourselves. This is why the darkness is a metaphor for despair, depression.
There is a reason for despairing now. And yet is it possible that there was ever a time in humanity when there wasn’t some sort of despair? A despair for the Ancient people was they noticed the sun going away. They weren’t sure if it was going to come back. They needed it. They were afraid.
How could they know? What was the proof? They couldn’t rush it.
They had to go without the sun’s light and warmth, overflowing their homes, and growing their crops and lighting their way. They had to survive for a period of time without the only thing they thought kept them alive. In time they learned that there are cycles to light and that the darkness provided the chance to learn more skills of how to survive together.
No matter what, we know that Ancient people tried to trick the sun into thinking that it was springtime, or summertime. Or was it that they just figured out ways to trick their own thinking that the feeling of darkness is something to fear?
The ancient people put greens all over the place, they brought trees into their houses, and if they lived at the top of hill -- in order to get the greenery up there, they made it into a circle, a wheel they rolled it up the hill. Over time this became the tradition during the darkness and expectation of new light during advent -- decorating, baking, making music, raising a toast, giving a gift.
The Ancient people didn’t know that the sun would return. If we are the post-modern people, how do we move past of our primal fear that there isn’t a hopeful future?
In isn’t easy. We enact life as a community on our Sabbath, our weekend, our annual seasonal gatherings. Hopefully such gatherings are a space to share the good and sooth the bad. Maybe there is a ritual of some sort – a tradition with an insistence on reminding each other to make what’s simple, abundant and what is abundant simple.
We joyfully live into the trick of caring for and enjoying each other. May we be stewards of some place, some special place that’s open for all to participate with a promise of love with justice and justice with love. We deck the halls.
In Anatomy of the Spirit, author and scientist of medical intuitive Caroline Myss says like a scolding elder, "We cannot be casual about spirit practice!" If at first we meditate or pray or walk to attend to the habits of humility, reverence, and the disciplining of our minds, sometimes we crash and realize doing and naming our practice is spiritual mandate.
I am an artist, untrained by institution and initiated by the still small voice inside that kept straining to anoint my go-to habit of making things to process my wondering questions of life. It is only in retrospect that I have been able to appreciate that creative process and play for more than being a welcome break to the demands of the responsibilities we assume or endure. For years, and years (and years), I was in steady, high-functioning career mode of marriage, parenting, and creative community/religious leadership.
The creative process -- art -- became named as spiritual practice for me when life's circumstances put me in an unfamiliar and extended lower-functioning period. Fertile void as the expanse of doubt, pain and uncertainty following a shock to the system. Loss; failure; in whatever form.
When I’m there, all I seem to be able to do is go down to the discomfort of the basement. I idly and enter into a space of putting my hand on my what I’ve collected when also idle: rocks and fossils, branches, rusted metal, sea-worn metal, wire pieces, shards of glass and pottery, lost earrings, shells, exploded firecracker wrappers, and so much more.
Going down to the basement becomes the only thing I can do when I don’t know what to do and don’t have the capacity to recognize into which direction to go. This feeling of not having a choice is what first allowed me to be present to a process of co-creation.
I wrap, saw, cut, glue, smash, build, frame and repeat until. Sometimes something appears that I want to keep. This happens when the relics arrange themselves into a wholeness. That wholeness – the arranged collection of piece it becomes is the art made by sacred process of submission, lament, prayer, and learning to breathe through discomfort.
Over years I have learned why the life of an artist can be lonely and dark. That feeling of loneliness and darkness is what pushed me to claim a process that could serve me in that space. Fortunately for me, and us, we are in a community of meaning makers so have a language for this processing.
I journal also. Here is a passage from two years ago during a time I was immersed in a community response ministry at the El Paso border:
I walk the river, the road, the sidewalk. I wander the woods, the beach, the border. My pockets get filled with pieces of someone else's time. All the while, my time has been spent in idle movement, tracing lines of others' paths. This is the wandering work of the artist. I bring nothing and what I take away I am saving from infinite unknown. When I'm cleaning the pieces and saving them, arranging them with the others, the story of each time unit passes through my hands to what's in them. They talk, pieces of stories. Most often they just whisper of a snapshot. You can't even say how long it lasted. But you know how you felt, you know who you were with. You remember what you were talking about. The song that was playing stings your heart, in a good way, even if it was bad. The smell of creosote in the air means the ground was wet, but just for a flash. The pieces of wire themselves, I have brought home. Just like they cinch up the water of a rio grande, they hold the other pieces together. I tell the story into these pieces that went into my pockets and then see what poem is told when they are laid. I still have a single earring. It is so exquisite but it hasn't gone into an altar yet. It hasn't been called up. I figure it will be when somewhere far away, someone steps just next to the other one, pressed into mud. With their fingernail they will gently lift it out. They will think they found something that tells a story about a moment.
Some healing has happened for losses in my life. I’m busy, which is a good sign. Now I have to work harder to make sure I schedule time to go down to the basement. It’s dark and somewhat damp. It is there that I know I am praying.
Off to pray,