A “both-and” Advent

by Kristin on November 29, 2011

in Belief, doubt & hope

I love Advent and I love writing, so you’d think between those two loves I’d be experiencing creative, spiritual combustion over here. But no—in reality I’m feeling rather stuck.

It could just be that Advent took me by surprise this year. I’m never quite ready when the first Sunday of Advent falls on Thanksgiving weekend.

It might also be that the very thing I love most about Advent—the traditions and rituals—also have a knack for getting in the way of fresh meaning and new connection. I’m not saying I’ve never before been able to squeeze something new out of something well-worn, but right now all I seem to sense is the expected, not the expectant.

The thought of changing things up, however, feels like sacrilege. Could we sing something other than “O Come, O Come Emanuel” as we light the Advent candles centered on our dining room table? Absolutely not! (See? I have this thing for tradition…) And it’s not just about me. While I’ve been participating in certain Advent rituals for several decades, my children have had only one-fourth of that experience. They need time and the repetition of ritual to wear the soft, familiar grooves of tradition. The most important spiritual formation of my childhood revolved around tradition.

As I pushed around this either-or scenario in my head—either tradition or something new—it occurred to me that Advent is a both-and season. It’s a season that can be expanded, without being pointedly changed. On Sunday, Pastor Jim talked about Advent as a time of waiting and working—waiting for God to rend the heavens and come down, but also working so that when he comes he will find us doing good, not harm (Isaiah 64:1-5).

An Advent framework to expand and fill

When I played with the idea of Advent being a “both-and season,” it became a framework easy to expand and fill:  Advent is a time of hoping and doing. Contemplating and acting. Ritual and fresh perspectives. Mantras and new stories. Resting in comforting traditions and readying ourselves to be startled, surprised, shook up all over again.

Within that expanded framework, I do have a new Advent devotional to read this year: Waiting for the Light. And yesterday, as I struggled to put into words a fresh take on Advent that I just wasn’t feeling yet, a Twitter and blogging friend (@jen_rose) pointed me to a photography project, Watch for Light (my second #adventpicaday is illustrating this post).  Maybe a mix of both waiting and watching for light is just what I need this year. To wait and to watch—so similar and yet different in important ways. And I need not do one or the other. I can do both-and. I can both wait and watch. I can both think and look, write and photograph.

This both-and approach to Advent is often subtle, but so important. It might just be the difference between a few letters that we need to listen carefully for, and articulate with intention—the difference between expected and expectant. Because we need both. We need to know with surety God’s promises can be expected, but we also need to be expectantly watching for them to take root in the world.

How do you mark Advent? How might you expand your practices this year?

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  • http://themoderngal.com The Modern Gal

    Your post is so timely for me. As a Catholic, I’m struggling against the changes made to the Mass translation during a time that I’m used to familiarity and tradition. All of a sudden my relationship with Mass and worship is unfamiliar and different leaving me confused and angry. And yet, I know in the back of my mind I need to open myself up to the changes and allow God to be present — a very Advent thing to do, it seems. But it’s so hard!

  • http://katieleigh.wordpress.com Katie @ cakes, tea and dreams

    I’ve been feeling this too, absolutely. And I love the idea of a both-and Advent – a time to wait but also to work. The message from my Advent reading (paraphrased) last night was “Do not neglect the little things.” I can be faithful to my small tasks, here and now, while waiting for the big event of God breaking into the world.

    As always, Kristin, you’ve given me food for thought. Thank you.

  • http://www.leighkramer.com HopefulLeigh

    A time of hoping and doing. This resonates with me. I’ve been having a particularly difficult time with waiting lately- this in the face of my One Word for this year: expectancy. Now with Advent upon us, I’m wrestling with these ideas all over again. A both-and Advent makes sense to me and I pray I will see how this can spill over into the other areas of my life.

    Love the idea of #adventpicaday! That is one Advent practice I can easily do.

  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com ed cyzewski

    As much as I hate the feeling that Advent crept up on me and that I may be squandering, I’m so grateful to be challenged, to become aware that my life has been moving too fast. It’s tough to force myself to stop since going feels so natural to me. I need that frustration and sense of guilt sometimes before I can chart a healthy course forward. I love the idea of acting and waiting. Perhaps if we learn to wait we’ll find better things to do when it’s time to act!

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com Kristin T.

    The Modern Gal, as a Catholic, I’m sure you understand extremely well both the beauty and potential pitfalls of rituals. Change is always hard, but it can be especially difficult certain times of the year, can’t it? Somehow I think this is all linked to maturity, and our need to expand and grow—as you said, a very Advent thing to do. Blessings as you navigate it all.

    Katie, I love the little things/big things distinction! Advent seems all about attention to little things with an over-arching mindfulness of the “big thing.” Thanks for helping me sort through my confusion and see more clearly.

    HopefulLeigh, expectancy is one of the most difficult attitudes to master, I think—especially sustained over a whole year! It’s at once so active and passive that the necessary tension wrapped up in it can be exhausting. May you find a small space of expectant rest and peace this Advent.

    ed, I’m not sure I ever need more guilt :) but I definitely can relate to the idea that a bit of frustration wakes us up and helps us see more clearly where we’ve been headed and how we should change course. I think my frustration (and my willingness to seek direction from others) definitely resulted in something good. Thanks for being a part of it!

  • Paige Szajnuk

    Earlier this fall, I provided editorial assistance for my church’s Advent devotional. This is a first for our church and the daily devotionals are sent out via email each morning. Even though I’ve already read (and edited) every one of them, I’m enjoying them now for the messages they convey. I can’t honestly say I’m feeling more hopeful this week, but as I read about the Hope of Christ every day, I do find myself thinking more about it. And I actually do feel more grateful for the Hope Christ provides. It’s a nice segue from the Thanksgiving season!
    Happy to have found your blog!

  • http://www.jenwritesstuff.com Jen

    I’m catching up on commenting on blog posts tonight. (um, this morning. at 1am) It’s certainly disconcerting to suddenly have Advent show up at the end of November…. last night, I was at a Christmas party, thinking, “it’s all going so fast!” but it’s only the 4th of December. So I suppose my struggle is slowing down, watching, listening… and finding those gentler pockets of time when the calendar gets full.

    I didn’t grow up with an Advent tradition. In fact, I didn’t even observe it at all until last year. So for me, incorporating tradition and finding personal ways to mark these seasons is a new adventure for me and has actually been meaningful to my faith. The Advent Pic a Day (thanks for the shout out, by the way! :)) has helped. And I’m trying to listen to well-worn Christmas music with an ear toward expectance and waiting. I haven’t heard “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” or “Joy to the World” quite the same this year. It’s funny how new things seem when you’re given a new perspective.

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com Kristin T. (@kt_writes)

    Paige, I like that you are able to feel gratitude for hope in Christ, even if you don’t feel the hope in a deep-down way every moment. That is definitely a starting place–a segue, as you said (and we all need those). Thanks for reading and sharing here!

    Jen, I have to admit, when I hear about people who are just experiencing advent for the first time I’m sort of jealous, although I know being raised with it shaped my understanding of Christmas in important ways. Thanks for helping me see it all in new ways, even if it isn’t new for me!

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