This window panel from the cathedral nave is of the visit to the Christ child with gifts. It reminds me of that particular discipline of Advent in which we wait for, long for, put off receiving …the gifts. Advent is a time of waiting…of longing for Jesus – an act of holy suspense-making.
By that I mean, gifts will be bought in this season – and so venturing out into the media blitz of the season is needed, and can even be fun at times. My new footie pajamas with candy canes on them arrives today (and the red of the canes matches my Santa hat!) (YAY!!!!)
Shops are sparkly, ads are fetching, music is fun, spirits for many are high. I myself, am making the bowls and candy (chocolate bark with macadamia nuts and dried blueberries!) which will one day soon be my gifts this year to my loved ones. The making of these gifts is a joy as I consider each recipient and pray for their joy in the use of these pieces of pottery. But it is also a loud season – visually, auditor-ally, institutionally and psychically. It is a secular season of marketing onslaught which is of such high volume and demand that one must actually defend one’s self from it. The monastery was effective for this but most of us are not walled off in monasteries in December. So what to do?
I think one thing I find valuable is to go back to my Rule of Life and be mindful of ads. To what will I expose my mind in Advent? For example, I do not watch live TV in Advent (or most any other time!) because I do not want to be vulnerable and exposed to the ads every seven minutes for three minutes. I watch movies or Netflix.
I also shop rather than roam. My friend tells me that shop displays are designed primarily to get one to buy “selfie gifts” when we were supposed to be shopping for others…um…like footie pajamas….oops.
Another little tick of mine is that when catalogs arrive, they go into recycling unopened. Like pornography, catalogs can be an occasion for distraction if the images are misused. I knew one older lady in a parish in Virginia who spent two hours each day fingering catalogs and making purchases – two HOURS! and then she would wag her bony finger at her husband’s nighty scotch as something he should be giving up in Advent-al austerity. I was at dinner, and when she said it, I sprayed soda water all over their dining room table from my mouth, in a failed attempt to suppress a laugh. She really saw his addiction as immoral and hers as simply life-lived. She also removed me from her guest list. Oops. Pastoral failure #543.
Whenever we misuse things – images, money, relationships, power, we are twisting gifts into weapons. Whose weapons they are, is usually a matter of deeper conversation, but the misuse is something to examine in Advent. Where have I made something into a fetish? To what am I overly attached? About what am I inflexible?
If there is anything I learn from a God who appears in a small middle eastern town on a certain date, born of certain parents, with the intention of changing history and liberating humanity by being murdered… it is that our attachments to “what is” may need some, well, elasticity. And the phrase “I need…” would be one of those attachments.