Advent greetings to you. As we inhabit the longing of the Hebrew prophets and centuries of people yearning for God’s incarnate presence, we wait and practice hope. We wait and practice hope for effective vaccines. Entering the coldest time of the year, we wait and know that the days will get longer, even though the winter be dark.
What’s your plan for pacing yourself through the next few months? I hesitate to even ask that question, to be honest. Right now, in our household and so many others, we’re in ‘let’s make it through the day’ mode. But, preaching to you and to myself, here are a few thoughts that might help structure a sense of agency about our approach to what’s ahead.
‘Practice’ doesn’t mean ‘a new daily obligation to add to your list of things you’re failing at’ (looking at you, fellow sojourners on the distance-learning parenting path). It means, rather, a touchstone. Something you write yourself a permission slip to take, like medicine. A choice to offer yourself God’s love and grace. What are the daily touchstones that help you know yourself to be God’s beloved? Practices of prayer, meditation, silence, breathing, the Daily Office, reading Scripture. If there are others in your household, finding the small moments that communicate love and affection. Connecting with loved ones far away, even briefly. Practices for physical health but also practices for comfort and gentleness.
This winter, both meteorologically and pandemic-wise, is going to be a marathon, not a sprint. It will take as long as it takes. And there’s no use wearing ourselves out trying to make it end faster. So (the author says to herself as well), you’re allowed to sleep. There seem to be peaks and valleys in our energy – times of exhaustion that call us to slow down, and then times of renewed energy when we find ourselves doing brave and beautiful work. You’re allowed to be gentle about what you accomplish, attending to the pacing cues of joy and the body’s feedback rather than the to-do list.
Making friends with darkness
Not my personal favorite. Probably not yours either. And yet the biblical narrative consistently points us back to the promise that God can be found in the wilderness, the places of chaos and loss and destruction. In fact, that God makes a way in that wilderness, a way even in the dark sea. So if we distract ourselves from grief and disorder, we may miss the chance to meet the untamed God out in the unmapped darkness.
In Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, Leaving Church, she tells a story of Reynolds Price, who faced a rare spinal cancer that nearly ended his life. She quotes him – “‘When you undergo huge traumas in middle life, everybody is in league with us to deny that the old life is ended… Everybody is trying to patch us up and get us back to who we were, when in fact what we need to be told is, You’re dead. Who are you going to be tomorrow?’”
There’s a gift in this tough-love pastoral care story – the invitation to claim resurrection, to write a new story. The kind of resurrection gift that is sometimes found in times of loss, change, and grief. To listen to God’s invitation to justice and love. To be willing to be changed. That kind of change is an invitation to new or renewed purpose – another way of describing call, vocation. One way of practicing defiant hope in the face of the traumas of 2020 is to reconnect to a sense of calling.
Practices, pacing, purpose – all of these are at the heart of what we seek to offer in the courses and workshops of the School for Formation. And perhaps in community in your congregation or in one of our courses you might find some new courage to say hello to darkness. As you look at the months ahead, these resources are available to you. If feeding your mind and learning in community with other Episcopalians feels like Good News to you, register now for one of our courses that begin in the new year.
With defiant Advent hope,
 Barbara Brown Taylor, Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith. Harper San Francisco, 2006.