Gifts: First Sunday of Advent
Today is the first Sunday of Advent. We invite you to share this season of hopeful anticipation with us as we prepare our hearts for Christ by downloading our Advent calendar and original Advent Ambient recordings by Hollow // Hum. Our hope is that this collection of images, stories, poetry, and music will illuminate the richness of the season, and that moments of contemplation will be ushered in as we offer specific ways for you to engage and pray with us.
On this first Sunday of Advent, we offer this original contribution from Ashley Cleveland:
December of 1984 was my daughter Rebecca’s first conscious experience of Christmas. She had recently turned two and my family and I primed her with classic stories and songs. Christmas morning belonged to my father. He was remote and emotionally inaccessible the rest of the year unless it was the cocktail hour, but on December 25th he expressed all the love he had for his daughters (along with hopes for a stylish appearance) in boxes upon boxes of expensive clothes and jewelry. Maybe a new car would be in the driveway wreathed in a gaudy red bow. An interior designer, he spent days lavishly decorating his tree until it couldn’t bear another strand of tinsel or in his room wrapping, curling ribbon, whistling in a monotone.
He set out a few packages as a tease but the big display was kept in a large walk-in closet until Christmas Eve when he would fill the room with equal parts merchandise and anticipation. I complained to my mother that half of what he bought for me were things that I would never wear and that he was merely pleasing himself. She said that gifts were often about the giver and that he was single-handedly keeping the economy afloat. Now with his first, adored grandchild, he fell into a shopping blackout.
Becca absorbed every bit of the excitement in the air. She was up at dawn on Christmas morning, jumping on the bed, beside herself. When the tree was lit and the bell was rung, she dashed into the room and stopped abruptly. She looked around at the blinding display, two or three boxes deep and she burst into tears.
Last Christmas my daughter Lily bound small books and filled them with poetry. My favorite is from Rilke:
With a slight nod he dismisses forever
All that sets limits and obliges
For the eternal coming fills his heart
In wide orbits, huge uplifted
The deep heavens stand before him
Full of shapes
And each may call to him:
Come, know me
Give his light hands nothing of your burdens to hold
Else they will come to you at night
To test you with a fiercer grip
And go like some raging thing through your house
And seize you
As though they’d created you
And broken you out of your mold
Becca knew even then; the manufactured magic of Christmas quickly becomes a sack of burdens. I am conscious that the season for many is one of loneliness, estrangement, obligation and overspending. I am aware of my own sadness as one of my children is perpetually missing, lost for now to addiction.
Along the way I discovered Advent and a place for my soul to rest through December. I do love to decorate a tree, maybe two, and rise before dawn to light it and sit in silence and wonder, contemplating an impossible incarnation and puzzling all the ways that I might be broken out of my mold in the days ahead.
- Ashley Cleveland