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Holy Darkness: An Advent Meditation

As a child, the Advent season was musically frustrating for me. With so many beautiful Christmas carols and hymns, I just could not fathom any reason why Catholics must wait until Christmas Eve to sing them. Every department store was playing Christmas songs. Television stations were showing Christmas movies and special programs.

Why wait?  

I prefer not to wait in many situations. For example, I would rather get to the destination of a planned vacation immediately than endure the hours it takes to drive or make the airline transfers needed to get there. I much preferred nursing my infant daughter, playing with her and watching her sleep to the nine months of back-aching pregnancy. When I want to write or create, I often need to wait for the inspiration to strike. Waiting can be an inconvenience, even excruciating, but there is no denying that we must wait for many good things in life.

I understand now why we wait to sing Christmas carols.  We are meant to recognize and practice waiting because, well, life is full of it. Advent teaches us that it is okay not to always get what we want or to get it immediately. Likely God has something for us to learn in the waiting. 

The origins of the word “advent” indicate that there is an impending arrival—that something or someone is to come.

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We could make a meditation of the origin and synonyms of Advent—

Christ is coming.

Christ emerges.

Christ makes an appearance.

We experience an occurrence of Christ.

Jesus Christ is born.

Christ will rise.

During Advent, we practice waiting in darkness for the light of Christmas Day. As we journey through the weeks, we circle around the Advent wreath lighting a new candle each week. Each candle is a reminder that we are getting closer,  that our waiting will end, that what we are waiting for will, indeed, come.

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The Advent wreath symbolizes the coming of the birth of Jesus, the light of Christmas drawing near and the anticipation of the Christ-light breaking into our life and world. With each passing week, the candle represents our hope that light will dispel the darkness. So it is with our own becoming. We circle around the same issues, questions and problems in our lives, struggling with the dark and light within us and around us. And we pray that God breaks in, that the light will prevail. We wait in faith. We wait with hope.

Advent is the hope-filled longing for our Creator to be incarnated in the most perfect way. Advent embodies the concept of “vorfreude”, a German word meaning “anticipatory joy.” It captures that bursting-with-excitement, overflowing-with-enthusiasm, I-can-hardly-wait feeling. The Germans have a saying, “Vorfreude ist die schönste Freude!” which means “The greatest joy lies in the anticipation.” This is exactly how a child might look forward to Christmas Day—the waiting is both suspenseful and exciting.

But waiting is not always filled with “vorfreude.” Sometimes we wait in darkness—wondering when it will be over, worrying that it may never be or, even, giving up hope. It is the ritual of the Advent wreath that reminds us that darkness has an end. As we light the candles of the Advent we make our way around the circle, knowing that there is completion, that there is fullness in Christ. Advent is about hope even in the darkness.

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A waiting person is a patient person. The word “patience” means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us. Impatient people are always expecting the real thing to happen somewhere else and therefore want to go elsewhere….Waiting, then, is not passive. It involves nurturing the moment, as a mother nurtures the child that is growing in her womb.  Henri Nouwen, Eternal Seasons

Consider practicing lectio divina with the song “Holy Darkness”, composed by Dan Schutte (1988), inspired by St. John of the Cross (1542-1591) and sung by Susay Valdez. Meditate on the lyrics while listening. Allow the questions for reflection to guide your journaling or creativity.

“In the barren soil of your loneliness, there I will plant my seed.” 

“When the silence stills your spirit, will my riches fill your soul.”

“Holy darkness, blessed night, heaven’s answer hidden from our sight. As we await you, O God of silence, we embrace your holy night.”

  1. Holy Darkness is often a song at funerals. It speaks of desolation, grief, darkness. What needs to die in your life? What needs to be grieved?
  2. What is growing within you? What seed planted within is growing despite your affliction, grief or loneliness? How do you know God is still there in the darkness?
  3. What images in nature give you the blessed assurance of God?
  4. What do you consider God’s wealth or riches? What do you want you soul filled with?
  5. What image comes to mind when you consider resting in God, waiting during the darkness for the light to come?
  6. Read and reflect on other posts about darkness.

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Listen to Holy Darkness 

“When we come to understand that everything in our world, including its darker aspects, derives from God, we begin to realize that much of what we perceive as “bad” is, from the divine perspective, simply another piece of the sacred whole…that which appears as darkness to us may very well be the beacon to our redemption.” -Niles Elliot Goldstein, God at the Edge

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Easter of Light… and Darkness

“We love to think of Easter as the feast of dazzling light. We get up on Easter Sunday morning knowing that the sorrow of Good Friday is finally ended… that Jesus is vindicated, that the faith of the disciples is confirmed for all to see, and that everyone lived happily ever after. We love fairy tales. Unfortunately, Easter is not one of them.” (Joan Chittister)

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During the Holy Triduum, we remember the events leading up to Easter. Each Holy Day is significant to the fullness of Jesus’ story—his life, death, and resurrection. Jesus’ life was full of joy—learning, teaching, helping others, growing in his authentic identity, and embracing his essence—but, also, as the Gospel of John poignantly states, “Jesus wept.” Even Jesus could not escape his own suffering—the death of a friend, concern for political and religious corruption, the betrayal of his disciples, his own physical persecution, and, finally, his fear of abandonment, that he had been forgotten by God and everyone. No doubt about it, Jesus experienced both joy and suffering.

Jesus’ life is an archetype for our own spiritual journey. There is nothing that happens in our lives that Jesus didn’t also experience. When we live out our own Good Fridays, mini-deaths that bring us face to face with darkness, we know we are not alone. We may feel betrayed by loved ones, blamed for problems we didn’t create, forsaken by those we trust. We grieve the loss of loved ones and lament our own mistakes. We are depressed or sad.

Our Holy Saturday is a time of waiting, enduring or resting, perhaps a respite from problems, a time when we can separate from our pain for moments, even days at a time. In the tomb, we wait for healing. Perhaps, we allow others to mourn with us and wait with us in hope. Our waiting is a gray space of in-between.

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This darkness is not what we want—and anytime we experience something unwanted, or conversely don’t get what we do want, we live in some shade of darkness. Truth be told, we simply want peace and joy. We don’t want to be patient, to feel bad, to hurt. There are times when we cling to the darkness and choose to stay in a place of suffering, but we can both honor the darkness while looking towards a glimmer of light, to Easter. Continue reading “Easter of Light… and Darkness”

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