I don’t know about you, but I sometimes find Advent hard to navigate. Maybe it’s the ambiguity that seems to be baked into this season. On the one hand, Advent is a time of watchful waiting that invites us to slow down and pay attention. On the other hand, the hustle and bustle of Christmas can keep us running at a hectic pace. For some of us, Advent offers the quiet, nurturing darkness of expectation where something new is waiting to be born. For others of us, the darkening days of December can bring up feelings of sadness, loneliness, and grief. Some days we may run the gamut, finding times of quiet amid the Christmas rush, moments of wistful sadness amid the joy.
The ambiguity of Advent is one of the reasons I’ve always enjoyed participating in Quiet Days at this time of year. Signing up for a quiet day means I’ve actually scheduled on my calendar some time for rest, reflection, and recharging my spiritual batteries before Christmas kicks into full gear. This Saturday we will be gathering for an Advent Quiet Day at St. Bart’s. We will spend some time together in conversation and prayer as we contemplate the story of the Annunciation through art, poetry, and scripture – the angel Gabriel’s mysterious, miraculous, and unexpected announcement to Mary that she will bear a son. In order to really enter into a place of contemplation and reflection, we are going to need to slow down, take our time, and allow space for the art and scripture to speak to us in new ways.
Here’s an example of what I mean. Many years ago, at the gallery where I worked, there was a painting hanging across from my desk that I stared at every day. I knew the painting was historically important, but to be frank, I didn't like it very much. To me, it seemed boring and vaguely unattractive, but it hung across from me where I couldn't help but see it every day. Then, one morning I came in and all of a sudden, I saw that painting with new eyes. It had taken time, but slowly, the painting revealed itself. You might say, it "announced" itself. And it became one of my favorites, not because it was accomplished or important, but because it spoke to me on a deeper level.
This Advent, amid all the ambiguous feelings of the season, I hope you will take some time to slow down and spend a few moments watching and waiting. May you experience some small “announcements” of your own, some “annunciations” of God’s presence in your life, however mysterious or unexpected they may be.