Curmudgeonly Advent Grumblings
Watery sunshine; unseasonable warmth from a low-angled sun; mists and mellow fruitfulness. Best to concentrate on what is left of the natural world. Best not to turn on the news which shows Black Friday scenes of violence involving people demonically possessed by consumerism, the abject terror of a boy about twelve years old down on his hands and knees as he fights to avoid being trampled by the crowd pushing from behind. Is there no more to life than clawing and pushing fellow human beings in order to possess a 40-inch flat screen TV?
Tomorrow is Advent Sunday. Whatever happened to the four last things: death, judgement, heaven and hell, appropriate topics for reflection as the natural world sinks into the quiet of decay, and the long winter's night? Judgement and hell have been airbrushed out of the picture, and in cities the night is as artificially as bright as the day, in a sorry parody of the psalm.
The four last things have been replaced with the first four Harry Potter films, along with B and C rated Christmas movies that began to flicker across the diabolical box two weeks ago. Someone more interested than I am might check back on the broadcast schedule to see how many times "It's A Wonderful Life" has already been shown. Is no one paying attention to climate change and the news that frogs are spawning and snowdrops blooming months ahead of their normal cycle?
The town, the markets, the supermarkets are jammed with excess, with stuff, to the point of nausea. I'm not a great lover of Christmas to begin with, except for the traditional music and memories of the profound silence of monastic observances. Usually I can enjoy bits of the secular feast, a few favourite foods on Christmas itself, a sense of merriment that breaks through the desperation here and there. But this year I find I'm already surfeited. I just wish it were over. It seems so pointless. Maybe it's my age, maybe it's the new clarity with which I see since the last cataract was removed—I can hardly bear to go outside the house.
Don't get me wrong: we need a winter festival, especially at these northern latitudes; we need times of celebration with friends and families—relaxed times, reflective times, but these seem nowhere in sight. Insane consumerism and mad partying marked by binge drinking hardly fill the bill. What we don't know, we fear. And I find myself deeply afraid of the world I see collapsing around me, just as those who live in that world become increasingly afraid of what is simple, and natural, and quiet. Most of all, perhaps, afraid of the paradox of the divinely human and the humanly divine, at least in potential, and what incarnation might require.
Amid all these reasons to stick my head under the pillow for the next month there was one sign of hope this morning as I made my way through a crowded Marks and Spencer to buy a few vegetables. At the head of an aisle was a cardboard stand with Advent calendars. Most were completely secular, based on Disney's Frozen and similar pop icons. These compartments were full. But the one that had nearly sold out was a traditional one of the journey through Advent ending at the manger. Maybe it's just a sign of the older demographic of this particular store.
On the other hand, maybe I'm not as alone as I think I am.