Thanksgiving has passed. The early morning sunlight has disappeared behind glowering skies; the forecast snowstorm will be rain. The studio where I write is chilly, having been largely unused for the past few days. BY the time it truly warms up I will be on to other things.
This Thanksgiving the ghost of settlers past has been particularly haunting. I’ve been keenly aware of the complexity of my identity, the choppy, chaotic confluence of setter and Native. Being here in southeastern Massachusetts, Thanksgiving and history are saturated with the settler view, complexity is largely absent, and the genocide that lies at the base of the holiday remains carefully ignored, or if acknowledged, is consigned to the long ago. As a result Thanksgiving meals with family and friends are a mix of pleasure and deep sorrow.
In spite of all this, we have entered the season of Advent, the time of waiting for, and anticipation of, profound renewal. Of course, the renewal of the natural world remains months away; the promise of Advent is more about the return of the sun, and the possibility of human transformation.
The metaphor of pregnancy and waiting remains powerful in our age of disbelief, filled with anticipation, unknowing, and ambiguity. We know we await something or someone, yet we cannot know exactly when they will arrive or what changes will accompany them; we don’t even know who they are! Pregnancy is ultimately, like so much of life, an abiding mystery. Sadly, our culture both craves and despises Mystery, just as we collectively express great love and antipathy towards children. This deeply seated cultural conflict may yet be our undoing.
Ultimately, we are loaned children to nurture as they become the persons they must; we have no control, (nor do they) no matter how much we may wish it, and the entire project must remain an enormous unknown. We hold the same ambivalence towards Nature, refusing to acknowledge we are each a magnificent mystery arising from, and ultimately dependent on, Her. As a result we find ourselves collectively fearing and rejecting mothers, children, and Nature, even as we feel a bottomless acing for attachment to each.
There is much healing to be found in this season of waiting although the way there is more demanding than we might like. As we enter Advent, may we slow down, put aside the relentless pursuit of Christmas joy, and experience the profound ambivalence that marks the Advent story and our shared cultural lives. May we remember that what remains unconscious must surely find its way into matter, must be enacted, for good or ill. And having remembered, may we make room for the suffering that is as much an aspect of Advent, and history, as joy.