Rest in Advent

“If you don’t exit this lockdown with rock hard abs, the world’s best sourdough bread, and a bestselling novel, what is wrong with you?” A popular meme on social media.

“Now that everyone has all this extra time we should schedule lots of extra meetings and really knuckle down on getting lots of extra work done.” A well-meaning parishioner.

“People say self-care is important but I have so many demands on my time that all I can do is simply work harder and harder. Self-care is not an option.” A close friend.

 

Each time I hear one of these messages a voice inside me says, “Can’t we all just stop? Please? Because if not now, when?”

We live in a world where overconsumption, overperforming, and busyness are the norm. Our churches are not immune, and neither are most individuals. Imagine a spectrum that ranges from “not doing nearly enough” to “doing way too much,” where would you put yourself?

Now adjust that slightly, because based on my experience talking to people about this subject for almost 20 years, you’ve most likely misdiagnosed yourself. Odds are you are doing a lot more than you think. Odds are you are doing a lot more than you should be doing.

Odds are you were tired before the pandemic began and it hasn’t gotten better, it’s gotten worse.

As a result of our addiction to more, we are making our world sick, our systems sick, and ourselves sick. The pandemic didn’t cause this, but it is exposing it. It is exposing our casual attitude towards human life when people argue that COVID is not a big deal because they falsely believe it only impacts senior citizens. When did it become OK to view seniors as disposable?

The pandemic is exposing our preference for consumption over compassion as decisions are made both by governments and individuals that prioritize the right to shop and spend and do whatever we want, whenever we want, over people’s health.

It’s like we have lifted up a rock and are suddenly seeing all the things that have always been there but that many of us have been privileged enough to simply ignore—systemic racism, poverty, inadequate supports for health care and education.

It’s going to take more than sourdough bread to heal ourselves and our world.

And, I’m worried that we won’t be able to stop long enough to realize this, let alone do anything about it.
Advent has long been my favourite season in the liturgical year because I view it as the most countercultural time of the year. Some folks who love their lights and carols and peppermint mochas in November will sometimes accuse me of being a grinch or the Advent police, but I hope that I never actually live up to those titles. You don’t have to practice Advent the way I typically do, especially not this year. This year, whatever you need to do to get you through—as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else—go for it.

I’m actually delighted by the sense of defiant hope I see in friends who chose to decorate for Christmas early this year and I almost joined them. But then, I decided to wait because Advent has always been a gift and I don’t want to miss what it has to teach me this year.

Here is my favourite thing about Advent: it puts me out of sync with the practices of the dominant culture. When everyone else is playing Christmas carols, watching Hallmark films, and decking the halls, I mark the time with candles and readings to help me deepen into a posture of waiting. When everyone else is rushing to the mall only to wait in long lines with other stressed out shoppers, I am not and more importantly, I don’t miss it. Not one bit.

Celebrating Advent doesn’t require me to give up a single thing I love about Christmas. In fact, by shifting the timing of the celebration it helps me enjoy them even more.

By the time most people are sick of Christmas music and movies and even the decorations are getting a little tired, I move into full on Christmas mode. While other people are packing things up for next year, I deck the halls, listen to nonstop Christmas music and watch, not Hallmark films, but my own list of holiday favourites, and most years I see half a dozen more in a movie theater filled with people.

This year is going to be different. In some ways, we’ve all been put into a forced Advent since last March. We are waiting for a vaccine, we are waiting to be able to be in the same space as our friends and family, we are waiting to gather together at the table to share bread and wine and to sing at the top of our lungs.

So, in this year when it seems we’ve shifted from the longest Lent to a never-ending Advent, I did wonder about putting up the decorations early as an act of defiance. But I want to continue to lean into Advent this year as a way of pushing back against my own tendency to buy into the lies of overconsumption and overperformance; and, I want to encourage others to join me. This Advent could we just stop? Could we take some time to reflect on our choices? Do we really need to do so many things or are we, perhaps, choosing to be busy as proof that we are worthy of love? Can the same be said about the way we spend our money? As churches, could we share resources and links to online services instead of feeling the need to compete with each other?

Could we start to realize that one of the key reasons that people in health care are literally unable to stop right now is because so many of us are refusing to?

I’m taking time in Advent to slow down, to wait, to re-evaluate my choices and my priorities because it’s time, in fact it’s long overdue. I hope you’ll join me.

And, I also have some special plans for this truly unusual Christmas season. I’m keeping hope alive by ordering something fairly extravagant and bubbly to have on hand for the day they announce a vaccine is available; and, the tree is not coming down on Epiphany—it’s staying up until Candlemas.

Rachel Twigg Boyce is a vicar at saint benedict’s table. You can find her there, at her website, or on social media as “Rev Rachel.”

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