Has your recovery from Thanksgiving sufficiently prepared you for Christmas? Interestingly, Advent is meant to be a time of fasting and preparation for Christmas, which is intended to be a feast celebrating the birth of Jesus. Over time, we have shifted the time of Advent into a time of feasting and frenetic activity in preparation for another feast that leaves us in an exhausted heap! A writer I have grown to love, Ron Rolheiser, suggests that we have forgotten the joy of feasting because we have forgotten how to adequately fast. And while advent in this generation retains a feeling of preparation, what is that preparation for? There is no expectation that we would fast in any sense as we prepare. After all, how can one fast when you’re running a 29-day sprint? Most of us complain of gaining weight over the holidays because of the many pre-celebration celebrations. Rather than refraining from work or activity, I hear more talk of lists and checking things off during this season than any.
Working with my clients during the holidays is a fascinating mix of increased cancellations due to the holiday frenzy by some and increased frequency of appointments by others due to stress! People tend to treat the season as a time of suspension from their real lives—I’ll start that later—that will have to wait until after the holidays—. It is as if the entire season of Advent is a time of unreality and December 26th marks the imagined beginning of the life we’re meant to have. It’s a type of trance if you think about it. Speed up, eat more, drink more, run more errands, bake more, send more mail, and go to more gatherings. There is almost nothing that SLOWS DOWN. If you work for the church, many of these dynamics are exacerbated exponentially. The leaders we hope will walk us through the season are sometimes the ones running at the highest speed!
Everybody writes about making the Christmas season special, meaningful, slower, and less expensive, but what does it mean to face Advent as a contemplative person? As someone craving an Advent fast to help prepare us for the Christmas feast in the truest sense? Consider Ron Rolheiser’s words:
“To be contemplative is to be fully awake to all the dimensions within ordinary experience. And, classical spiritual writers assure us, if we are awake to all that is there within ordinary experience, if our ordinary awareness is not reduced or distorted through excessive narcissism, pragmatism or restlessness, there will be present in it, alongside everything else that makes up experience, a sense of the infinite, the sacred, God.” p. 23
What will it look like to be fully awake in this sense during Advent? How do we avoid slipping into the trance of excess everything?
The quote is from Ronald Rolheiser’s The Shattered Lantern.