“In the lives of those who believe and pray, there are bleak winters of the spirit. We seem to go along well for a while in prayer and relationships and life generally, but from time to time we disintegrate. It is very painful. You may suspect that this will prove to be a creative disintegration, that God is re-creating you, putting you together in the likeness of his Son at a new and deeper level. Certainly this does happen: growth is not easy; there is a probably distressing period for the caterpillar on the way to butterflyhood. We are all participants in this experience from time to time, and a chrysalis needs sympathetic understanding, so we should be gentle and patient with ourselves, as with others. Nevertheless, they are hard to live through, these winters of the spirit. When you know yourself to be sterile, helpless, unable to deal creatively with your situation or change your own heart, you know your need for a Savior, and you know what Advent is. God brings us to these winters, these dreary times of deadness and emptiness of spirit, as truly as he brings winter after autumn, as a necessary step towards next spring. But while we are in them they feel like a real absence of God, or our absence from him. . . . .In the winters of your prayer, when there seems to be nothing but darkness and a situation of frozenness, hold on, wait for God. He will come.” (Maria Boulding)
I hope this provides encouragement for you. Know that I’m praying for you . . . all of you who “know what Advent is.”
Father Alfred Delp, the heroic German Jesuit who was executed in 1945 for his resistance to the Nazi regime, wrote this:
Oh, if people know nothing about the promises anymore, if they only experience the four walls and the prison windows of their gray days, and no longer perceive the quiet footsteps of the announcing angels, if the angel’s murmured word does not simultaneously shake us to the depths and lift up our souls–then it is over for us. Then we are living wasted time, and we are dead, long before they do anything to us.
This Advent is the perfect occasion to take account of all the walls, and prison windows, and gray days that we let define our lives. There are quiet footsteps and murmured words of announcing angles coming our way, too, to remind us of God’s awesome promises.
There is a little known Advent tradition–at least little known to me–of using an Advent log, instead of an wreath. “It contains a candle hole for each day of Advent, plus one for the Christmas holy day itself.” Here is a poem I came across that refers to this lovely tradition:
Prayer at the Advent log
The small lights steady
against the dark,
Your flame is touching ours.
Today is the fifth day.
It is a safe fire,
the candles still tall
above the brittle wood
of the birch, the air
damp and chill.
But the days will draw us
and again we’ll stand
in the crackling air,
the first days’ flames
licking the log
with their shortened lives,
the length of it
threatened by Your fire,
Your love dazzling our eyes,
and, O Christ,
Your love searing
“In Advent we are studying God’s strange ways, so very different from our own. God does not come to claim his kingdom with imperial might, overwhelming the opposition; he comes in vulnerability, unobtrusively, changing the world in ways we cannot imagine. The angels spend Advent saying ‘Don’t be afraid’, just as they do to the shepherds. It is not their own terrifying presence they are reassuring us about, but the breathtakingly daring action of God. ‘Do not be afraid’, say the Advent angels. ‘God knows what needs to be done. Come to the manger.'” (Jane Williams)
For the past few Advents, I have pulled the same book off the shelf to read: The Coming of God by Maria Boulding. It is, by far, the meatiest book I have ever read for Advent. She goes right to the heart of the reason for this season: longing for God–and that longing being indisputable evidence of the prior longing of God for us.
Here are the opening paragraphs of the book:
If you want God, and long for union with him, yet sometimes wonder what that means or whether it can mean anything at all, you are already walking with the God who comes. If you are at times so weary and involved with the struggle of living that yo have no strength even to want him, yet are still dissatisfied that you don’t, you are already keeping Advent in your life. If you have ever had an obscure intuition that the truth of things is somehow better, greater, more wonderful than you deserve or desire, that the touch of God in your life stills you by its gentleness, that there is a mercy beyond anything you could ever suspect, you are already drawn into the central mystery of salvation.
Your hope is not a mocking dream: God creates in human hearts a huge desire and a sense of need, because he wants to fill them with the gift of himself. It is because his self-sharing love is there first, forestalling any response or prayer from our side, that such hope can be in us. WE cannot hope until we know, however obscurely, that there is something to hope for; if we have had no glimpse of a vision, we cannot conduct our lives with vision. And yet we do: there is hope in us, and longing, because grace was there first. God’s longing for us is the spring of ours for him.
So take a moment, look for that desire in your heart however buried it might seem, and simply say, “Come.”
Like foolish folk of old I would not be,
Who had no room that night for Him and thee.
See, Mother Mary, here within my heart
I’ve made a little shrine for Him apart;
Swept it of sin, and cleansed it with all care;
Warmed it with love and scented it with prayer.
So, Mother, when the Christmas anthems start,
Please let me hold your baby–in my heart.
Sr. Maryanna, O.P.
Robert, Cyril. Mary Immaculate: God’s Mother and Mine. New York: Marist Press, 1946.
“In our time there is a seeking, an anxious groping and searching for divine things. A great loneliness has come over our time, a loneliness that is found only where godforsakenness reigns. In the midst of our large cities, in the greatest, most frantic activity of untold masses of people, we see the greatest amount of loneliness and homelessness.
“But the longing grows that the time will nonetheless come again when God dwells among people, when God lets himself be found. In the middle of this frantic activity and vociferous extolling of new ways and means stand the one word of Jesus Christ: ‘I am with you. . . ‘ (Matt. 28:20). He does not prescribe ways in which we can reach him. Rather, he says quite simply: “I am with you.”
“None of us lives a life so rushed that it is impossible for us to find even ten minutes a day, in the morning or evening, when we can let everything around us become quiet and submit ourselves completely to eternity, when we can let it speak to us and ask it about ourselves. In that way we an look very deeply within ourselves and quite far beyond ourselves. That might happen by looking at a few Bible verses or, even better, by becoming utterly free and letting our soul make its way to the Father’s house, to its home, in which it will find rest.”
Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking:
if you hear my voice and open the door,
I will come in to you and eat with you,
and you with me. (Rev. 3.20)
A seed contains all the life and loveliness of the flower, but it contains it in a little hard black pip of a thing which even the glorious sun will not enliven unless it is buried under the earth. There must be a period of gestation before anything can flower.
If only those who suffer would be patient with their earthly humiliations and realize that Advent is not only the time of growth but also of darkness and hiding and waiting, they would trust, and trust rightly, that Christ is growing in their sorrow, and in due season all the fret and strain and tension of it will give place to a splendor of peace. (Caryll Houselander, The Reed of God, p. 36)
“In Advent, God does not first confront us with our sin; instead we are invited to prepare to make God welcome; we are invited to take the initiative, to find our best selves, to be willing to open the door to the baby in need. God does not come into the world with a battering ram, but with a cry: open the door.” (Jane Williams)