I was chatting on Facebook with three different people, all of us in a kind of post-Advent slump.
Traditionally viewed, Advent is a time of longing for Christ. We symbolically anticipate his birth but look toward his second coming. Then at Christmastide, we celebrate and honor his birth as well as the revelation of his divinity (Epiphany, or Theophany in the eastern churches).
But in actuality, we expend our celebratory energies during Advent, culminating in the multiple Christmas Eve services. Afterward, many of us begin to take down and box up our holiday decorations, and many pastors (at least in my own circles) take well-deserved time-off during some portion of Christmastide.
Rather than feeling guilty about not keeping Christmastide more festive, I wonder if we should simply recognize that our holidays have evolved to this point. Advent and Christmas are, already, a complex assortment of traditions: Christian, non-Christian religious, and secular/economic. The Christian liturgical year begins on the first Sunday of Advent with the anticipation of a big, festive season, and then we can move into our new year with a fresh sense of Christ, even if we’re a little tired for a while.
My previous post had to do with the grief and tragedy evoked on Holy Innocents’ Day. Looking through some of my books for blog ideas, I found some good thoughts in a favorite text, The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality by Ronald Rolheiser (New York: Doubleday, 1999). In one section, Rolheiser talks about the grief of recognizing life’s unfairness.
We know that life is unfair, but sometimes we have to “process” that fact. We had dreams but they didn’t work out, we’re disappointed, we don’t feel as valued as we’d like (p. 163). The prodigal son’s older brother is an example. His circumstance is not dire like the younger son’s. The older brother’s life seems pretty good! Yet he feels bitter, let-down, and left out. He feels no joy (p. 163).
How many of us can sympathize with the older brother! Life is unfair, but it is unfair in different ways for different people. We wish things were different in the way life has been unfair for us, while someone else may wish he/she had our lives!
Rolheiser suggests that we go ahead and grieve, because grieving helps us eventually to let the old things go. He calls this “letting the old give us its blessing” (p. 164). “We face many deaths within our lives and the choice is ours as to whether those deaths will be terminal (sniffing out life and spirit) or whether they will be paschal (opening us to new life and new spirit). Grieving is the key to the latter” (p. 164).
In John’s gospel, when Mary Magdalene encountered the risen Jesus, Jesus tells her not to cling to her. Rolheiser suggests that Mary is trying to cling to what she has known and loved about Jesus–to cling the past. When she can grieve the Jesus she has known and open herself to the new circumstance, then she can receive a new spirit (pp. 164-165). (My own thought: you can see similarities of these ideas with the Buddhist teachings about attachment and non-attachment.)
I’m a very slow griever, unfortunately. But letting the past bless us, even the painful and/or abusive experiences, is to recognize that what has happened has happened, to accept the unfairness, to grieve, and then, hopefully, “to “attain the joy and delights that are in fact possible for us” (p. 164).