As I write this, I am mindful that we begin the season of Advent this Sunday, December 3rd. I don’t think I fully understood the significance of this liturgical season until one Advent Sunday, some 23 years ago. It was a gray, cold, bone chilling morning in Chicago, but I was warmed by the beauty of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church with its Gothic architecture, flawless stone carvings, candles casting light into dark corners with dancing flames, while the Skinner organ accompanying the Men & Boys Choir, led the congregation in a mournful yet robust singing of “Come, oh Come Emmanuel.” I was the Celebrant that morning, and processed down the aisle behind the Thurifer, Crucifer, Torch Bearers, twenty or so choir members, and several acolytes. I was fully vested in several layers of robes, complete with a magnificent purple chasuble, and great with child, my being seven months pregnant. The historical events of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, recounted during Advent, from the Annunciation to the waiting for the birth of her child, connected me to Mary in a way that I had not experienced before.
Following the service, I was approached by a new comer, who tearfully told me that she was Roman Catholic, and that she began weeping when she saw me coming down the aisle, a pregnant priest in a chasuble She explained that she had only seen male priests leading worship, and that she had been waiting for half a century to see a female priest at the altar, and a pregnant one was beyond her imagination. We talked as Mothers, about that experience of being ‘great with child”, knowing that something mysterious and wonderful was growing within us, and waiting patiently and hopefully to see the face of our child. We both understood that Advent and pregnancy are seasons when we practice waiting, when we are invited to savor our present state of being, when trust, patience, hope, fears, longings, and anticipation are emotions as well as experiences that teach and refine us both in Advent and in pregnancy.
The root of the word savor comes from the Latin word saporem which means to taste and is also the root of sapient which is the word for wisdom. I have discovered, that when I give myself over to the experience of savoring, wisdom emerges. Savoring calls for a kind of surrender, of letting go of my usual way of being; savoring calls me to taste slowness: I can’t savor quickly. Savoring calls me to taste essentials: I can’t savor everything at once. Savoring calls me to taste mindfulness: I can’t savor without being fully present. Savoring is a practice of enjoying the waiting.
Waiting has never been easy; it can be a heavy burden, or boring, or anxiety producing, and our culture has little respect for the value of waiting, as we have come to expect fast food, Amazon prime, instant downloads, snapchat and text messages. We are conditioned to want immediate action, responses, and results. The liturgical season of Advent is a counter-cultural opportunity to practice waiting, preparing, savoring, and hopeful anticipation. I often wonder, is there value in honoring Advent, as stores are stuffed with Christmas items prior to Halloween, Christmas tunes tinkle over the radio on Black Friday, and the bell ringers at the red Salvation Army kettles wish me a “Merry Christmas!” I turn into a Grinch and say, “Advent Blessings.”
In spite of feeling like a salmon swimming upstream in the cultural river of consumerism, self-gratification, and the pattern of avoiding the dark parts of life with copious colored lights and tinsel glittering 24/7, I think there is a missed opportunity for spiritual growth, when we do not fully immerse ourselves in Advent. To prepare and wait, stretches us and makes the awaited celebration of the birth of the Christ child, even more joyful. Without fasting, feasting may become only gluttony. As we fall prey to never-ending celebrations, we lose some of the thrill and jubilation that comes with the ending of a long wait, an anticipated arrival, a longed-for promise of our Savior. Our human experience is made up of sorrow & Joy, fasting & feasting, lament & praise, and to skip the one, diminishes the richness of other.
I encourage you this Advent season, as I do each year, to intentionally savor these four weeks of preparing and waiting, by choosing some spiritual practices that will take you deeper into the darkness of the night, away from artificial light, so you might see the gift of the star light and moon shadow. The long-suffering waiting of the birth of Jesus, like any baby, serves to heighten the wonder, amazement, and joyful celebration when the waiting is over, the Savior has arrived, and we can see the glory of God, in the face of the promised one. Advent Blessings, SEB+
The Rev. Susan E. Bentley
St. James Episcopal Church
4515 Delray St. NW
Roanoke, Virginia 24012