- At the Desert Retreat House -
On the Christian calendar the season of Advent begins tomorrow. It's my favorite time of year; however, it is also a season that has been virtually lost in contemporary culture - even Christians rarely celebrate the "true meaning" of Advent.
For most people the "holiday season" has already begun - shopping, festive parties, brightly-lit trees, the "holidays" are in full-swing. Many contemporary Christian churches are already decorated with wreaths and bows, carol-singing every Sunday this month, along with Christmas pageants. By the time December 25th arrives, Christmas is over and it's time to put away all the wreaths and lights.
But it is not yet Christmas. It is Advent - a season not to be missed.
From ancient times the Christian church had designated these four weeks before Christmas as the season of Advent; yet even those who do celebrate the Advent season often miss the mark about what this Advent season is really all about. They use this time as little more than an official countdown period - a time for "getting ready for the birthday of Baby Jesus."
But this time of Advent isn't a season for getting ready for anything, nor is it a time for anticipating a future event. The four weeks of Advent are a time for practicing the discipline of mindfulness - learning how to watch and wait in the present moment.
Henri Nouwen once said something that almost perfectly captures the spirit of Advent:
A waiting person is a patient person.
The word patience means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation to the full
in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us.
"Baby Jesus" was born a long time ago. The past is the past and the future never happens, all we ever have is now; and it is only by paying attention to the "now" that we find the hidden beauty of every moment in every single day. Advent is a season to practice the discipline of "paying attention."
You hardly have to be a Christian to "get into" the true meaning of Advent. In fact Christians can probably learn more about Advent from Buddhists than from other Christians. The Buddhist practice of mindfulness and meditation is an ideal discipline to be honed in these days of Advent.
In fact, as I see it, Advent is a season for anyone anywhere to practice - religious people, people on any sort of spiritual path, atheist and agnostics- there is something about Advent that applies to us all.
In these frenetic and frantic December days, as people find themselves busier than ever, rushing here and there, so "caught up" in the many events of a holiday season, Advent gives us all a time to stop and take a breath. Light a candle, sit in silence, get off the "busyness treadmill" if only for a few moments. In Advent we can all practice staying where we are fully present in the moment, alert, mindful and awake "in the full belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us."
These December days are perhaps the most beautiful time of the year for living in the desert -crisp, cool nights, radiant star-filled skies, a fire in the fireplace, brilliant sunlight and exotic winter flowers along the trails. It's such a magical and mystical time of the year, so much hidden beauty waiting to manifest itself - it must be Advent.