I anticipated having a lot more creative inspiration during these early Advent days. I assumed that because of both the personal challenge to write reflections and the richness of this season that epiphanies would be snowballing me. This has not been so. In fact, it has been uncharacteristically quiet. This isn’t to say that my daily activities have been still. My interior home-life has all the markings of December; my children and I have been enjoying creating in the kitchen, and our freezer full of Christmas delights speaks to this. My knitting needles are keeping up pace with the envisioned gifts I have still yet to make. Christmas canticles have been sweetly singing and candles are aglow throughout our days and evenings, and indeed, we are all very much aware of the deepening darkness in these weeks leading up to the Winter Solstice and the celebration of the Christ child. Try as I might to center in on all the rich symbolism of the season and capture an essence of the deep truths that annually call us out to celebrate, squeals of boy-children laughter, running-on-hard-wood-feet, and sibling drum circles (six hands chaotically attempting to play along with The Little Drummer Boy) dissipate the reverie and my inner-writing-voice is, again, quiet.
Beyond our doors the urban streets surrounding our home in Southeast Seattle are far from quiet; they are full of life and noise. Our city’s light rail train runs just one block from our front door and our home resides directly underneath SeaTac International’s most popular flight path. The road in front of our home is a main arterial to Seattle’s interstate highway and hospital; the wailing sirens of ambulances, police cars and fire engines charge this street at all hours of the day, in every season of the year. Christmastide doesn’t lessen these lights of pain and sorrow; if anything, the blinking rainbow Christmas strands alighting these city-homes seem an ironic backdrop to the grand-scope reality of urban life. It is a practice to offer up a murmured prayer for the ones impacted by the siren’s story; but the high-pitched decibel of these warnings leaves me aching for peace and silence.
But just behind our house is a small parcel of forested land. When the banter of the children grows too big for the confines of our home, or when we are needed to exchange the concrete under our feet for the soft, spongy feel of the earth, we dress for the weather and go into the woods. And it is most often here, in this green space that is adjacent—and under! —all the aforementioned urban realties, that we find a deep sense of quiet and Nature silently offers up testimonies affirming this Advent season.
This past weekend, while giving a tour of our recent trail work to a volunteer, we were discussing the mutual frustration at the lack of creative writing during this wintertime. During our walk through the woods, I observed how quickly the forest had quieted into its dormant stage—it was just a few weeks ago that these self same woods were vibrant with the flaming colors of autumn. Heedful of a surfacing truth, I felt a message from the woods settling into a deep place in my heart: it is this time of year when the earth goes quiet. It is in this season that all of creation huddles inward; drawing its energy to its core as it awaits the time to unfold again into new life. This isn’t the time of creative displays of springtime colors or the heady scents of sultry summers. This is the month of darkness; this is the month of quiet dormancy. This is the tide of wordless waiting. I felt a comforting invitation from the trees: “Wait with us”, they seemed to say, “as we do not wait passively in vein!”
A popular prayer poem that comes by way of the Iona Community in Scotland begins:
When the world was dark and the city was quiet, You came. You crept in beside us. And no one knew.
It is easy to expect much from this time of year (and so we should!); the lights, the music, the bows—all seem to loudly proclaim the Life that is to come. These merry seasonal accoutrements, while certainly pointing to the day when the Ultimate Gift was given, can also be that which confuses the energy with which we move through these Advent days. With every Christmas light, tree or gift we see, we find the anticipation growing, the excitement mounting, the frenzy swelling, until—just like the energy of our home with three small children drumming along to carols—we have an emotional spiral in complete contradiction to the season of Christmas. I expected that all of the preparations and plans would inspire and nurture creativity; that the cookies and canticles would give me a fresh perspective on Christ.
Yet this prayer poem, with great simplicity, describes the ideal context for the Christ child to come: “When the world was dark and the city was quiet You came.” Our greatest Gift, our deepest Inspiration, the seat of our conceiving comes to us not because of the fanfare of Christmas, but out of the quiet, expectant, hope-filled waiting to which we are called. The One for whom we wait WILL come…will we know? Will we allow ourselves to be still enough to sense Christ’s presence? Perhaps if we accept the invitation to dark quiet from the trees, we will be among those who know of The Arrival.