Monday, December 04, 2006

Taking time for pondering

So, Christmas is coming again, huh? I was just remarking to my EfM group last night that I don't think I've experienced a single Christmas where I wasn't either a teacher or a student. Or if I did, I was probably a very new parent at the time. So at the time when I hear others talking about how they've done *all* their shopping already, or are at very least finishing it up, I'm in the midst of end-of-the-quarter/semester frenzy. "Soon..." I will quietly reassure myself. "Soon, I will be finished with what I'm working on, and will be able to turn my attention to the holidays."

But at the point when I am finally able to do that, some two weeks out from Christmas, all the ads are urging me to check out some "last minute gift ideas".

Last minute? No, this is hardly last minute--and believe me, I've *done* last minute! I've shopped on Christmas Eve more times than I can count. But still, those messages are out there, gently scolding me for not getting started sooner. (They have to do it "gently", of course, because they still want me to buy stuff).

And I say back to those messages, maybe not gently, but quietly, "Bite me."

The season of Advent is about waiting and preparing. The pre-Christmas frenzy of consumerism is about preparing, in rushing around, getting ready for the big day sense, but Advent is about preparing our hearts. I say this, not just to you, the readers, but as a way of reminding myself.

The liturgical season of Advent started yesterday, and I decided that this year, for the first time, we are going to do a nightly Advent ritual. I have always liked the idea of family rituals, but have never made a serious effort to start one and stick with it. Given the diversity of our family, though, I can't just take a pre-packaged ritual "off the shelf", but pretty much have to make one up.

I was raised Catholic, and am now Episcopalian. Demetrius was raised by Evangelical parents, but does not practice any faith tradition now (except, in a tongue-in-cheek way, the Church of the Restful Sabbath.) He appreciates hearing people share their stories from the journey. Humans are united in their search for meaning, wanting to make sense of the big picture, find reason for hope in dark times...

Son in Ohio, now 13, has been an "unbeliever" to some degree or another, almost from birth. His unbelief seems to be in inverse proportion to his perception that others to convince him to believe something, so I never push. But he's watched things like National Geographic Channel's Science of the Bible. We've talked, over the years, about the various "holidays of light" that are celebrated at this literally dark time of year. And we've talked about how there are some stories that are "true on the inside", whether or not one believes they are true on the outside, i.e., actually happened.

Daughter in Ohio, 11, has always been more religiously oriented than her brother. She doesn't attend Sunday school, but has been part of a church children's choir for 4 years. It's at a different church than the one I attend, which is kind of a hassle, I guess. In a perfect world, maybe our family would have a common place of worship. But it feels right to give everyone the space to do what best feeds their spirit/soul. I finally found a church that feels like "home" to me, but it's not the church that has the children's choir for my daughter, so we split our time between the two.

Yesterday was the first Sunday of the month, so she sang with her choir group:

Light one candle for hope, One bright candle for hope.
He brings hope to every heart, He comes, He comes...
Whether or not you believe that the biblical story of Jesus "really happened", there is something universal about the "hope in a dark time" theme at this time of year. That's one of the things I said last night as we lit the first candle on our makeshift Advent wreath. And I read part of the nativity story in Luke, emphasizing this verse:

But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.
And I said, whatever we believe, or don't believe, I think it's important at this busy, sometimes sensory-overloading time of year, to take time to ponder.

By the way, the quarter is *not* yet over--I still have to put finishing touches on an exam and grade some papers today. And I guess I need to run to the grocery store, because Demetrius is on a tight deadline and probably won't be able to get out. So I don't know yet what poem or song or piece of writing we will be pondering when we light our candle tonight, and am open to suggestions. ;)

Update: Via Father Jake Stops the World, a Meditation for Advent I. The song is "Quiet", by Paul Simon.

I've also really been appreciating (since discovering them only yesterday) the reflections of Sr. Claire Joy on her blog Flavor of the Month.

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