It is deep and dark December in the northeastern United States. Snow has fallen for days. Nothing outside my window resembles this photograph and yet I keep coming back to it as a focus for Advent meditation.
A few weeks ago I read an article about how tired food writers are of Thanksgiving. Every year they have to discuss whether it is better to brine or baste, roast or sauté. They have to make a production out of what is, after all, very simple and soul-satisfying cooking. They have to write as though there is drama and worry and then they go home and make things the way they know will make them happy because it always has.
I wonder if it is the same for religious writers and Advent. They have to find something to say about a season that is deeply embedded in their spiritual practice. Observers already know what it is and they love it because for them it works. It creates a haven of calm and centeredness, a rhythm of light in a season of diminishing sunlight.
Advent is a private season. Many people don’t even know it exists. Nevertheless, defenders raise the alarm. Never mind the war on Christmas, there is definitely a war on Advent! And the media is complicit! And so is everyone else who is shopping and going to parties and singing all the wrong things and making the poor Advent observers feel alienated and smug. Something must be done!
Meanwhile the monk in the pagoda in Pleiku tends his magnificent trees in their stately containers using construction buckets, the most humble and ordinary of vessels. I watched him. When he had finished he picked up both buckets and turned. He may have seen me, an American visitor, or he may not have. He did not speak and yet he taught me about calm and grace and tending trees, about watching and waiting.