Sunday, November 27, 2022

A New Beginning

Today is the First Sunday of Advent, the liturgical season in the Christian tradition that’s all about waiting. In the words of writer Gayle Boss, the season of Advent is a time of preparation and waiting for “the mystery of a new beginning out of what looks like death.” Such a time involves going inwards so as to seek and embody – individually and communally – this mystery of a new beginning.

If you’re looking for a book full of beauty and insight to help guide you on this year’s Advent journey, you really can’t go wrong with Gayle’s All Creation Waits, featuring twenty-five illustrations of animals of the northern hemisphere by artist David G. Klein. Each of these original woodcuts are paired with a beautifully written meditation by Gayle, exploring how “wild animals adapt when darkness and cold descend.”

Commenting on All Creation Waits, Richard Rohr writes:

Each of the beautiful creatures in this little book is a unique word of God, its own metaphor, all of them together drawing us to the One we all belong to. Adapting to the dark and cold they announce in twenty-four different ways the Good News of Advent: that through every dark door the creating Love of the universe waits.

And as the book’s publishers note: “Anyone who does not want to be caught, again, in the consumer hype of ‘the holiday season’ but rather to be taken up into the eternal truth the natural world reveals will welcome this book.”

Following is an excerpt from the introduction of All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings by Gayle Boss.


The roots of Advent run deep beneath the Christian church – in the earth and its seasons. Late autumn, in the northern hemisphere, brings the end of the growing season. When early agricultural peoples had harvested their crops and stacked food in their larders, they gave a collective sigh of relief. Their long days in the fields were over. For their labor they had heaps of fruits, vegetables, grains, and meat. The group body called out, Feast!

At the same time, no matter how glad the party, they couldn’t keep from glancing at the sky. Their growing season was over because the sun had retreated too far south to keep the crops alive. Each day throughout the fall they watched the light dwindle, felt the warmth weaken. It made them anxious, edgy. Their fires were no substitute for the sun. When they had eaten up the crop they were feasting on, how would another crop grow? Throughout December, as the sun sank and sank to its lowest point on their horizon, they felt the shadow of primal fear – fear for survival – crouching over them. They were fearing, and they were fearful, both. Despite their collective memory, people wedded, bodily, to the earth couldn’t help asking the question. Their bodies, in the present tense, asked the question.

Our bodies still ask that question. In December the dark and cold deepen, and our rational minds dismiss it as nothing. We know that on December 21, the winter solstice, the sun will begin its return to our sky. But our animal bodies react with dis-ease. We feel, The light – life – is going. Those particularly afflicted know themselves as SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder – sufferers. Some of us cope by seizing distractions the marketplace gleefully offers: shopping, parties, more shopping.

To be sure, some part of “the holiday season” is celebration of the harvest, for us, as it was for our ancestors, even if our personal harvest doesn’t involve crops and barns. We throw a party to mark the end of another year and all it’s brought. We do this in a big, bright, loud way. But for us also, as for our ancestors, the dark end of the year brings unrest. It is an end. It comes without our asking and makes plain how little of life’s course we control. This uncertainty, we don’t know how to mark. And so it marks us. We feel weighted, gloomy even, and we feel guilty because voices everywhere in myriad ways sing out, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”

[My Christian tradition] told me that my own annual December sadness was no reason for guilt. It was a sign of being wide awake in the world, awake enough to sense loss. And furthermore, there was a way to engage that sadness. That way was Advent.

The early Fathers of the Christian church read the ebbing of light and heat and vegetable life each year as a foreshadowing of the time when life as we know it will end completely. That it will end is the rock-bottom truth we sense deep in our primal bones every December, and it rightly terrifies us. To their and our abiding fear of a dark ending, the church spoke of an adventus: a coming. Faith proclaimed, When life as we know it goes, this year and at the end of all years, One comes, and comes bringing a new beginning.

Advent, to the Church Fathers, was the right naming of the season when light and life are fading. They urged the faithful to set aside four weeks to fast, give, and pray – all ways to strip down, to let the bared soul recall what it knows beneath its fear of the dark, to know what Jesus called “the one thing necessary”: that there is One who is the source of all life, One who comes to be with us and in us, even, especially, in darkness and death. One who brings a new beginning.

This is Christian tradition at its best, moving in step with creation. When the sun’s light and heat wane, the natural world lets lushness fall away. It strips down. All energy is directed to the essentials that ensure survival. Engaging in Advent’s stripping practices – fasting, giving away, praying – we tune into the rhythms humming in the cells of all creatures living in the northern hemisphere. We tune into our own essential rhythms.

. . . The practice of Advent has always been about helping us to grasp the mystery of a new beginning out of what looks like death. Other-than-human creatures – sprung, like us, from the Source of Life – manifest this mystery without question or doubt. The more I’m with animals and the more I learn about them, the more I know they can be more than our companions on this planet. They can be our guides. They can be to us “a book about God . . . a word of God,” the God who comes, even in the darkest season, to bring us a new beginning.

Gayle Boss
Excerpted from All Creation Waits:
The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings

Paraclete Press, 2016

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Advent: A “ChristoPagan” Perspective
Something Extraordinary . . . Again
Advent: The Season of Blessed Paradox
Active Waiting: A Radical Attitude Toward Life
No Other Time, No Other Place
Advent: Renewing Our Connection with the Sacred
Guidelines for the Advent of a Universal Mysticism: An Introduction
Guidelines for the Advent of a Universal Mysticism (Part 1)
Guidelines for the Advent of a Universal Mysticism (Part 2)
Guidelines for the Advent of a Universal Mysticism (Part 3)
Guidelines for the Advent of a Universal Mysticism (Part 4)
Guidelines for the Advent of a Universal Mysticism (Part 5)
Guidelines for the Advent of a Universal Mysticism (Part 6)
Guidelines for the Advent of a Universal Mysticism (Part 7)
Guidelines for the Advent of a Universal Mysticism (Part 8)
An Advent Prayer
Celebrating the Coming of the Sun and the Son
Christmastide Approaches

Opening image: Michael J. Bayly.

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