Well, it’s here. Really here. Winter that is. It didn’t just creep in. It fell upon us kind of fast. Suddenly, it was the end of November and Thanksgiving. The holiday that pushes us through the doorway into real winter. Weather news had focused on snow, storms and icy, dicey weather sweeping around parts of the U. S. Warnings advised us of the potential for massive transportation disruption for those coming home for Thanksgiving - the biggest travel day of the whole year, even bigger than Christmas. There’s something compelling, in a primal way, about trying to get “home” for the Thanksgiving holiday. Familiar foods are a draw, but deep down, isn’t it more, really, about the people around the table than it is about the food on the table? Although our bodies need food to survive, deep down in our souls, that core part of us, don’t we seem to sense that an equally compelling need is for connection with others, especially those important to us? Thanksgiving presents the major holiday when we imagine there is the greatest opportunity to gather with those folks who may be the most nourishing to us. We call these folks “family” – be they biological or “nuclear” to our lives including friends that make up the inner circle of what is family to and for us. It is as if we have a deeply embedded existential need to be with those who are “familiar” – soul and spirit nourishing to us.
Isn’t it ironic that even before the holiday focusing on giving thanks dawns it is shadowed by “what’s next” – the biggest shopping season of the year! Black Friday has morphed into a whole weekend with Cyber Monday tacked on – just in case we haven’t had enough shopping time. These days, immediately after Thanksgiving, are a powerful draw to get the best possible deals for presents for everyone on our Christmas list. But hearing the stories I wonder if the focus hasn’t shifted from the perfect-gift-for-someone-I-love time to the exhilaration of simply shopping? An example: a story I just heard of someone who was hosting Thanksgiving for her extended family for the Saturday after Thanksgiving rather than the Thursday of Thanksgiving. The reason? So she could give full attention to Black Friday, beginning as it now does on Thanksgiving’s Thursday afternoon. Not because of family travel plans which can sometimes necessitate such a shift, but because the shopping feast offered by Black Friday was more compelling. I wonder what “hunger” we in our culture are feeding when we make such choices? And I am sad that our culture tries to feed hungers that may satisfy a societal economic desire for its financial health but can lead us to choosing a priority of spending our resources on “presents” rather than “presence.”
The term “consumerism” has the same word base as “consumption” – it’s about what we consume. I wonder about our culture of consumption. Has our culture, economically driven, seduced us away from what truly feeds our hunger for the basic nourishment that sustains life: love and relationship? I believe that this time of year confronts us, head on, with life-giving choices about what really nourishes and sustains us.
It is the season of Advent in our faith community’s yearly cycle of life – a time of transition and preparation. In our secular world it is the season of Thanksgiving to Christmas, a time of expectation. In our physical world it is also a time of transition, preparation and expectation. A season of light-lessening, deepening darkness till the winter solstice in late December when the relationship between dark and light begins to turn again.
Now is a transition time in which we anticipate and experience once again the amazing reality in our annual seasonal cycle that there is a beautiful rhythm to light and dark. In our summer to fall season there is a relief as the brightness of summer and heat of the sun slows into coolness and a time to let go of some things overgrown, over blown in our life. But then as the sun sets earlier and rises later (as if to take some time to hibernate) cold settles into the landscapes of our physical and emotional world. The darkness and cold seem to overtake our psyche. We yearn for light and warmth to intervene again, break through that which simply wants to hibernate within us, yet dreams of renewal and new life.
“Between the Dark and the Daylight” (the title of a book by Joan Chichester perhaps offers a good description of the time we now face in Advent as we watch for and prepare for the re-emergence of the predominant presence of light in our lives. Both darkness and light offer their gifts to us. Rest in the darkness offers a place and time for our egos to be quiet. Darkness stirs us biologically to necessary rest, a space and time that our physical systems need to use for the process of renewing us without interference from the manipulation of our internal ego manipulated controls which flourish in the sometimes blinding light of day. As well as without interference of the over-developed corporate ego of the society and culture in which we live and which ruthlessly hounds us when we are awake.