This is one of my favorite posts, from early in the creation of this blog, when only people close to me (like my mom) followed it. I re-read it the other day to help me get centered. I hope you won’t mind my re-posting it, and I hope you enjoy it…
Christmas is coming! Christmas is coming! This refrain spills from the lips of young and old. How did the season get here so fast? Are you ready? The excitement builds as does the pressure, especially for the people charged with making sure Christmas happens. Make the family specialties, bake the cookies, keep the traditions, decorate the house, buy the gifts, wrap the presents, the list stretches out exhaustively before us all.
But what if, somehow, we could use this time to center down inside ourselves and counteract the fever of busyness? What if we could refocus on spiritual preparation as well as earthly readiness? For my family, the season of Advent is here; we Episcopalians are not celebrating Christmas yet. Advent can seem to be at odds with the commercial push to celebrate right now, to be festive right away, to hype ourselves up and run ourselves ragged because the Advent season asks us to prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ. But, this year, I realized the preparation can include all the activities normally associated with gearing up for Christmas (like shopping and wrapping and decorating) if I do them mindfully, intentionally, and methodically. This year I’m thinking of the swirl of activity as necessary work to welcome the Christ Child into our home with all the celebration and pomp appropriate to the overwhelming generosity of God’s gift of great love for us. I have decided to enter wholeheartedly into the spirit of Advent.
My first step has been to contemplate the necessity of getting centered within myself, so I don’t get pulled to pieces by the whirlwind. In her wonderful book, A Gift from the Sea, Ann Murrow Lindbergh discusses this still prevalent problem with great insight.
Woman’s life today is tending more and more toward the state…[of] “Zerrissenheit – torn-to-pieces-hood.” She cannot live perpetually in “Zerrissenheit.” She will be shattered into a thousand pieces. On the contrary, she must consciously encourage those pursuits which oppose the centrifugal forces of today. Quite time alone, contemplation, prayer, music, a centering line of thought or reading, of study or work. It can be physical or intellectual or artistic, any creative life proceeding from oneself. It need not be an enormous project or great work. But it should be something of one’s own. Arranging a bowl of flowers in the morning can give a sense of quiet in a crowded day-like writing a poem, or saying a prayer. What matters is that one be for a time inwardly attentive.
–A Gift from the Sea, Ann Murrow Lindbergh
(This book also makes an excellent gift.)
When I look at my To Do List, I can think of many activities which I find creative and which can be centering if I choose not to perform them frantically but calmly enjoy them instead: gift wrapping, baking, decorating our home. The trick will be to separate the tasks and to begin early enough to have time for each one. That’s the beauty of Advent. As Jerome Berryman explains in a small pamphlet called “How to Keep Advent”, “Sometimes people can go right through a mystery and not even know it is there. The church knew that the people needed a way to get ready to come close to and enter into the Mystery of Christmas. They set aside four weeks to get ready.”
Each year I make a pleasant ceremony of wrapping my gifts. I get out all the supplies: paper, ribbons, gift tags, tape, red, black and green pens, and scissors. I turn on Christmas carols, get a glass of eggnog, and spend a couple of hours completing the task. I put together each box and select colored tissue paper to line it which shows off the gift or goes nicely with the wrapping paper. I choose a fitting wrapping paper and ribbon combination for the gift recipient, something I think he or she will find beautiful or charming.
(Real ribbon from the sewing or craft store looks so lovely, and I can find unusual patterns and great textures like satin and grosgrain there, too.)
I try to remember to attach the gift tag right away so that I don’t lose track of what is for whom after all the boxes are wrapped.
Then, I place them under the tree or in a neat stack somewhere until we get a tree. By the time I finish, I feel happy and proud. (Singing along with the music helps get me there.)
I plan to also take enough time to bake the chocolate coated gingerbread from the Canal House Cookbook. Last year, I made their hot buttered rum, which tastes much better than the recipe looks, and splurged to make their lobster stew. My hubby and I had a romantic Christmas dinner for two. I set a small table in front of the fireplace and next to our Christmas tree. I started the meal with a simple, but luxurious salad of field greens topped with a slice of double crème brie and sprinkled liberally with blueberries drizzled with a light vinaigrette. We drank a crisp, French champagne, ate the decadently creamy lobster stew, then finished off the meal with fancy pastries from a local Italian bakery. Easy and fabulous!
Like Thanksgiving, I also think about how to best spend my energy to create a festive experience, rather than a crisis. My husband and I shared with each other our priorities, fondest memories, and hopes about Christmas. Together we decided to focus on the experience of celebrating at home and in church. I bought a sweater for each member of our family last September during the feeding frenzy for the Missoni line at Target. Despite my participation in the madness, I had the presence of mind to put them away to save as Christmas gifts (except for that one really cute, purple number which I bought as an extra for myself and had to wear right away.) But, I digress. Look how easily I fall into the materialism of Christmas while trying to write about how to avoid it! Anyway, we agreed those would be our only gifts other than small edible treats for our stockings. We will spend our Christmas money on a tree, fresh wreaths, bulbs of amaryllis (pink for our bedroom and red for the dining room), and special meals including seasonal drinks.
Also, each of us supports the other in trying to stay grounded and in returning our thoughts to our preparation for the coming of Christ into our lives once again. Henry Nowuen wrote, “I do not want to complain about this passing world but to focus on the eternal that lights up amid the temporal. I yearn to create a space where it can be seen and celebrated.” As the darkness grows, we yearn for the light, including a glow, a spark in our hearts.
My husband and I have agreed to be kind to one another these days. I try to think of ways to make Hubby feel welcomed in our home and to show him how much he walks in love each day. He bought us each a small pamphlet of daily meditations for the season of Advent called, “The Stillness We Seek.” The preface captures this tension between the hustle and the stillness:
Advent is filled with expectation and sometimes disappointment. The days before Christmas are sacred. We want to make time for prayer. We look forward to annual concerts and pageants, as well as seeing and hearing from people we care about. In the midst of our hopes for the season we also encounter traffic jams, ornery people, lists with more to be done than we have time for, and long lines in stores. We miss people we love who have died; we may grieve a divorce or feel the loneliness of being single. Maybe we are angry over losing a job. Advent is a time of year when we often experience conflict between our hopes for peace and joy and the commercial and social demands made upon us.
The secret to living fully may be simply to be where we are, keenly aware of the present moment. In the next four weeks we will pause to pray and seek the peace that is always there in the midst of whatever else we may be doing…I pray that these words come true for you this Advent. – Cathy George
This year I will find ways to enjoy instead of endure. Today I will sign us up for the delightful, charming, animated, digital Advent calendar from Jaquie Lawson. Last year we opened it together each night in our pajamas in bed. I sent one to a close friend and her daughter, and they did the same. Each task I undertake, I will try to do for the love of my family and to make ourselves ready for a grand celebration of the hope and the love and the light that is Christmas. What could be a better use of the season of Advent?
Wishing You Every Blessing,