The spiritual magic of advent

What does ‘advent’ mean to you? A chocolate calendar? (if so – 100% support that)

Perhaps you were raised in church, and you remember Advent Sunday services, liturgical readings and hymns which were almost carols.

I wasn’t brought up in a churchgoing household and discovered (and then deconstructed) Christianity as a teenager, but it wasn’t until studying at the University of Oxford, which is steeped in Christian history and tradition, that I started to sense that advent was a bigger deal than I’d realised. My college had an Advent carol service at the end of term, not a Christmas one. And the suspenseful readings and haunting hymns pointed to the cosmic drama soon to unfold in humble Bethlehem. Of Mary’s fear and wonder as she contemplated the birth of her child…

Last year, I discovered @theadventproject on Instagram, a lunar-inspired queer advent journey, which draws on traditions from across the ages and explores them for today from a queer perspective.

I started to realise, advent can have a powerful symbolism, even if you’re not Christian

It is a time of intentional waiting – of hopeful, joyful expectation. In a weird way, the whole of 2020 has been this forced, protracted advent. And waiting is hard. Especially when you just don’t know when the waiting will be over.

Yet at the same time, we spend a lot of our time waiting.

Waiting for the weekend. Waiting for the kettle to boil. Waiting until x happens, before you’ll allow yourself to do y. So, given how much of it we do, our ability to wait well can have a great and positive impact upon our whole lives.

I have often been a person who spent her life waiting.

No matter where I was in life, I was looking forward, planning ahead, writing lists and dreaming of how amazing things could be. Before I started therapy, waiting was a way of diverting my restlessness and my inability to be content in the present moment, and a way of imagining that one day I might be happy.

The problem with this? You guessed it. I was so busy waiting I wasn’t living. I realised that, while having goals and dreams is wonderful, life is, and always will be, exclusively in the present moment, even when that moment is painful or uncomfortable.

What are you waiting for?

This Advent season, I invite you to spend a few moments in reflection. Ask yourself – what is it you’re waiting for? Are you even fully aware of what it is for which you wait? What joy and gratitude can be drummed up, even in the waiting? Journaling is a common practice during the days of advent. Could a brief daily writing practice offer you a special space for reflection during this liminal time?

I’ll be journaling, and stopping to contemplate what waits for me within the folds of hopeful expectation. If you join me, let me know what you discover. I’ll be waiting.

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