And so we begin again, end again, collapse time and space into a single point that lasts for the four weeks of Advent.
Nothing could be further from the orgiastic celebrations of consumerism and overindulgence that lead up to Christmas these days. One promising note this year is that so-called Black Friday was a complete flop as far as the high street shops were concerned—the chaotic and horrifying scenes from last year were not repeated in the UK. Even if the shopping went ahead online, there is something positive in people’s rejection of the sort of degrading behaviour that went on last year.
This morning I went to the Eucharist at St Benet’s. It wasn’t just the foul weather that made me reluctant to walk all the way to Christ Church. Rather, it was a longing for the inherent silence that is the heart of the energy that animates Benedictine liturgy, and that, it is devoutly to be wished, should animate every Eucharist, no matter how joyous and celebratory.
Advent is the night office within the night office, as it were. There is the long liturgical arc that begins with All Saints day on November 1, and ends with Purification on February 2 that lights us through the darkness of winter. But within that arc is another: the four eschatological weeks that end with the coming of the light after the solstice. The solstice used to fall on St Lucy’s day, but with the change in calendar from the Julian to the Gregorian, beginning in the 16th century, St Lucy arrives ten or eleven days earlier than the solstice, and Christmas comes hard on its heels.
In Scandinavia—in addition to its famous celebrations of St Lucy—there is a lovely custom of having lighted candles attached to windows during the darkest days of the year. To walk down the street of a strange city far to the north where the nights begin to draw in as early as mid-afternoon is to experience a quiet sense of welcome from those one will never otherwise meet.
Light and silence: may these be ours this Advent and Christmastide.
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Some words of Rowan Williams (thank you, Matthew):
Our problem in prayer is 99 times out of 100 it is not the absence of God but the absence of me. I am anywhere and everywhere but here. God, as it were, sits patiently in my here while I’m there.
George Herbert – ‘God is more there than thou’
St Augustine – ‘We have a home that does not fall down when we are away.’
Contemplation is less an activity we get better at – we never get better at prayer – it’s a place we are invited to which is always there.