Today is the second Sunday of Advent and we are reminded that even in very difficult times there is hope.
Last night I sat down with Ali Smith’s book, Winter, and read it. What a marvelous piece of writing! Smith somehow weaves together the real challenges we face collectively, including the difficulty of writing meaningful blog posts, into stories of our near future world, a place of staggering inequality and shattering climate change. She accomplishes this using thoroughly likeable characters and a sure feel for what is fundamental to human experience.
I picked up the book on a whim while vising our local library; it was standing among other seasonal offerings yet stood out the way books sometimes do, as if calling out to me to pick it up and take it home. I have other books that require reading but non are truly seasonal; somehow Christmas is not Christmas without at least one seasonal read.
Winter takes place at the Christmas holidays yet is comfortingly devoid of the ornamentation of the season. For the small group of characters, the Christmas weekend becomes a time outside of time, filled with the mythic and transformative, and with unexpected healing. I wonder, isn’t that (the healing, mythic, and transformative) what we are seeking in this season of Advent?
When I was a child I ached for change, wanting to awaken on Christmas Day to find in one of the wrapped gifts or overfilled stockings a transformation of my family and my life. I grew up in a family where no one spoke of anything that mattered, and efforts to speak were met with silence or other violence. My memories of childhood and adolescence are of a profound, bone chilling quiet and loneliness that seemed to ooze from the walls of any house we lived in. It was as if trauma filled ever possible niche within the family system, so much so that moments of warmth came as a shock. (When I was five I actually lost 80-90% of my hearing for several months.)
I now know that Christmas carried, for me, an impossible burden of hope and dread, a sticky, muddy anxiety filled anticipation for which I lacked all words. Looking back, I realize that my parents also burdened Christmas with their sorrows, rages, and dashed dreams. No wonder there was such a gap between our culture fueled expectations and lived reality.
We enter this Advent season carefully nourishing hope for healing and renewal in the face of environmental and humanitarian threat and chaos. We do so even as we are surrounded by media and politicians who deny the immense suffering and threats that demand our collective attention. Our situation is not all that different than that of those who longed for relief from the suffering that filled their world that first Christmas, are we?