Sunday, December 10, 2017

Advent: A "ChristoPagan" Perspective

Last Sunday was the first Sunday of Advent in the Christian tradition and as writer Katie Jenkins reminds us in the piece I share below, it is a liturgical season of waiting and a time to reorient ourselves to what it is we are waiting for: our recognition of the "in-breaking of God into our own personal lives and communities."

Advent was established by the early church at this time of year because of the many long-established pagan understandings and rituals to do with winter here in the northern hemisphere. Indeed, the Christian year, as Joyce and River Higginbotham note in their book ChristoPaganism: An Inclusive Path, is a combination of the pagan earth-centered yearly cycle and the church's own Christ-centered one. Both the pagan year and the church year begin in December – at the Winter Solstice and at Advent respectively.

I purposely opened this post with an image of Cernunnos, the ancient Celtic deity (or archetype) of nature, life and flourishment, as a way of honoring the pagan roots of the Christian church's Advent season, along with the shared understandings and symbolism of both traditions. It's an honoring rooted in a "ChristoPagan" perspective, to be sure!

I appreciate how Cernunnos is depicted, and how this depiction relates to a lot of the things associated with Advent. After all, in writing about Advent, Katie Jenkins talks about such things as humility, yearning, waiting, being still, connecting with our deepest self, discerning, and being present. I see all these things reflected in this particular image of Cernunnos. And, of course, Advent is also all about seeking and hoping to recognize God in, as Jenkins puts it, "small, daily, unforeseen ways." I dare say Cernunnos, in true pagan fashion, is recognizing the sacred in the beauty of the natural world around him, and, in particular, in those two birds perched together in the winter tree!

Yes, even in the dark and cold of winter the Sacred Presence is with us. Our task is to be constantly reorienting ourselves so that we recognize and embody this presence. That for me is what both Advent and the Winter Solstice remind us to do, especially in times that are bleak and seemingly lifeless.

Advent is a time to reorient ourselves to the world and to God. It is a humble time of recognizing one’s need and yearning for God’s presence to break into the world.

The waiting we are called to do during Advent is not the busy, numbing, frenetic kind of waiting, but the stilling, germinating kind
that connects you deeply with the present and your true self. . . . We open ourselves up to await the in-breaking of God into our own personal lives and communities here in the present. It is a time to connect with our hope and our desire.

It is a season for us to settle down deeply into ourselves – to hear our heart cry, to find that spark of life and hope deep within the darkness of unknowing. Desires unfulfilled. Hope unmet. Longing unsatisfied. It is a time of discernment, of waiting, of being present.

Because of this, it seems appropriate that in the northern hemisphere, this is the darkest time of year . . . and appropriate that the beginning of the church calendar would likewise begin in stillness and the dark, with us facing our deepest fears and desires, cultivating our hope for the light.

In the silence and the darkness, we hear our own heart’s cry, our own flame of desire, our own longing for God. . . . We are learning to look for God and hoping [to recognize] God . . . in small, daily, unforeseen ways.

– Katie Jensen
Excerpted from "Entering Advent: Journey Into Darkness"

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
An Advent Prayer
Advent: The Season of Blessed Paradox
Active Waiting: A Radical Attitude Toward Life
No Other Time, No Other Place
The Centered Life as an Advent Life
Rejoice? (Advent 2012)
Advent 2011: Thoughts and Reflections (Part 1)
Advent 2011: Thoughts and Reflections (Part 2)
Advent 2011: Thoughts and Reflections (Part 3)
Advent 2011: Thoughts and Reflections (Part 4)
Thoughts on Waiting . . . and a Resolution
My Advent Prayer for the Church
Advent: Renewing Our Connection with the Sacred
Celebrating the Coming of the Sun and the Son
Christmastide Approaches

Related Off-site Links:
What Is Advent About After All? – Paul Menter (Aspen Daily News, December 6, 2017).
Advent: Hearing God in a Female Voice – Joe Kay (Sojourners, December 4, 2017).
Second Sunday of Advent Invites Us to a Meta-dream – Mary M. McGlone (National Catholic Reporter, December 9, 2017).
Happy Holidays. Yes, All of Them – Thomas L. Knapp (Stanwood Camano News, December 12, 2017).
Look to the Coming Light to Refresh your Winter-weary Soul: Winter Solstice Can Be a Spiritual Experience – Andrea Thompson McCall (Press Herald, December 12, 2017).

Image: Artist unknown.

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