This was a series of posts I did on social media over the past couple of weeks. On December 7, the island entered a new phase of restrictions based on spreading cases, a 2 week “circuit breaker” period. So I gave myself a daily writing challenge, with an Advent twist. Most of these entries were written at the end of the day, with my few remaining active brain cells. They are thoughts of the moment, ideas and impressions I wanted to grasp hold of, even if not fully formed.
I thought I would gather them up here as a sort of diary in one long post.
(Feel free to follow Rise Heart on Facebook, where I sometimes post a few extra things, like writing challenges!)
It’s a miserable, wet, blustery day out there, and but I need to get out of the house. I put on my raincoat over some winter insulation, rain pants that are two sizes too big, and the waterproof hiking shoes I bought for my (cancelled) England trip. With gusty northwest winds today, I head for the pond and trail in the river valley, instead of the road up the ridge.
It’s damp. It’s brown. It’s muddy. I walk determinedly along the uneven ground, pushing back against the wind and pelting rain with each step.
This is not how I picture December. Something in my soul needs snow at this time of year. I am longing for white, for crisp air, for crunch beneath my feet. I am longing for a lot of things. Far off forests, far off faces, a gathering of voices, a certain light in the eyes of loved ones.
Today I am aware of all the things unfinished and unfulfilled. Memory aches with distance. Hope aches with deferral.
And that’s why I love Advent.
If there’s ever a time to tune into our subterranean longings, it’s now. Things are not as they should be, and it’s ok to acknowledge it. Advent gives us permission to feel the ache.
I wake to snow. Just a dusting, but I am grateful. Boots on, eyes open, I step into the morning.
I follow the trail of white, bending to notice each patch of earth that receives and holds its beauty. Some of the snow is melting already. It won’t last. But it is here now, and now is what I have.
Now I am a ridge of roof, a fallen oak leaf, a bed of moss. Here I am the waiting world.
There’s a place prepared each morning where the wild birds sing and the river renews her goodness. In the shelter of the great tree, a stump becomes a sanctuary. The water’s glass is stained with shafts of a quiet mercy, and peace is the pink sky whispering, “come.”
Today we set up a manger in our little patch of riverside woods. Gold stars hang from branches to guide the way, and stumps await the worshippers.
It’s a place to be thoughtful or thankful, to pause, to pray, or just to be present.
Right now it sits empty, aside from the straw. It waits, altar-like, for a gift. It waits with our weary hearts. It waits with the eager eyes of children peering over, wondering, is it time?
Today we bring the outdoors in, and with it the freshness of another, wilder world. Green and prickly, dripping with sap, dropping needles as we squeeze it through the door, drinking our water – it reminds us that it is no small thing to bring something living into one’s life.
We rearrange the furniture, reorienting our space so it can take its rightful place as king of the room, crowned by a four year old on daddy’s shoulders with an angel in her hand.
We bedeck it with jewels, bedazzle it with coloured lights, but its true dignity lies in its living core. Its gift is in the breath it exhales over us.
And oh, the smell of this newly cut forest-dweller. Sharp and sweet, it is the hidden life of the tree, oozing out from its wounds. It bears them gladly, submitting to our process of beautification, and all for the sake of our festivity.
Lovely tree, who gives its life to bring us the fragrance of a far off country … how faithful are thy branches.
Day 7 (Gaudete Sunday)
Joy is snow that can be rolled into funny little men.
Joy is a chair just your size.
Joy is a cherry on top.
Joy is a pink candle dispersing the gloom.
For today, a quote from my current Advent read:
“Revelation is a hard gift to receive. You must give up everything else to receive it—like finding a treasure in a field and selling everything you have so you can get that treasure.”
(Scott Erickson, Honest Advent)
I actually spent my free time in the kitchen today! Which, if you know me, is not usually my go-to place if I have down time. But I had a sudden urge to bake something. It must be the season.
I poked through the cards in my recipe box and found one I’d never made before, and it was a blast from the past – dunkers! My northern “auntie” used to make them when we were kids. They are so named because they are good for dunking in a hot drink. I had to halve the recipe, because I figured 12 eggs and a whole pound of lard was probably not necessary for our family, at least for my first try!
They were a big hit for our bedtime snack. Fresh out of the oven, it was like biting into a moment of childhood, and with it, memories of woodstoves, winter nights, and warm laughter shared over an ice cream pail of dunkers.
I won’t say how many I had (what is it about cookies hot off the baking sheet?), only I had forgotten how filling they were! No matter, as the only thing left to do tonight was snuggle up next to the tree with some kids and Christmas books.
I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling some empty spaces in the days leading up till Christmas. Long pauses that are normally filled with the sounds of doorbells (and not the parcel delivery guy), the buzz before the opening number, or the raucous laughter of friends making merry.
Today I filled my pause with an old recipe made new, a rather noisy phone call to far off family, a smile for sweet memories, and an extra book by the light of the tree.
(And just one more dunker.)
And what do I have to offer you?
A house that won’t stay clean,
Half a dozen unfinished prayers,
And a hunger I’m not even sure You can fill.
But I see
The humility of the place you chose to break the waters of heaven,
Your starburst revelation to those caught unawares,
And the strange, low table you set in the house of bread.
This is the good news –
That those who come empty handed are the first to see him,
The woman turned inside out,
And the father with no home,
The glory-stunned shepherds on the outskirts of town,
Anyone crazy enough to listen to angels and make their search for God small enough to hold a seed, to hand wrap a child, to hallow a feed trough.
So maybe there is hope for worn out households,
And answers to prayers without words,
And Christmas feasts for those willing to go now even unto Bethlehem.
Today it was announced that our “circuit breaker” restrictions would be easing starting tomorrow, a few days early. So this will be the last day of my self-imposed challenge.
I began this writing challenge with a wet and windy walk along the river, and a need for fresh air in my soul. My walk this afternoon was on frozen ground, processing the challenges of these complicated days. I still need fresh air in my soul. On days like today, I can feel like it’s all too much for my poor little brain. My head spins, my stomach flops, my heart heaves. I look out over a horizon of hazy unknowns, and I hardly know which is the right way forward. The world is too big, and I am only me.
Only me, and yet . . . not alone. There are steps beside me. A listening ear. And more – dare I say it? – a hand to hold. In times when closeness is practically scandal, it’s a wild and wonderful thing to have companionship without barriers. If there’s a name for Jesus I’ve latched on to this Advent, it’s Immanuel. God with us. God with us in our personal space, our bubble, our isolation. God who stays, when we present every symptom of soul sickness in the book. God the doctor without a mask, who tosses every operational plan out the window and says, “How can I touch them all?” God whose very breath is healing and hope.
This is the only way forward. One small step at a time with Immanuel.