Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a psychological condition that effects about half a million people every winter peaking in December, January and February. Symptoms include Depression, Anxiety, Lethargy, Overeating and wishing everyone would shut up and leave you alone. It has been over a decade since I’ve felt that way. Today I can calmly, happily, passionately say WINTER BITES! Pass me some blankets and hot soup cause how long can this take right?
But before this joy filled sludge through December gets on its merry way the ACNM has directed me to post about an Advent tradition. Really you want me to tell you about this nasty cold time the world goes through right before Christmas. Grumble, grumble, jingle, oh Bells! You asked for it.
People have hated winter for hundreds of years. In pre-Christian Germany the tribes would place lit candles in wreathes for the two obvious reasons it was dark and they were cold. Today we would call this Light Therapy . The ancient Scandinavians would place their winter candles on the wheel.They would huddle around the wheel and pray to turn “the wheel of the earth”. Basically as long as we can recall religions have been praying for December to end already.
When our church ancestors discovered these old candle wheels they decided they would be a perfect fit for the season on Advent.Obviously there is a convenient parallel between mans yearning for the return of the sun and the Churches yearning for the coming of Christs glory. But I think the churches was making another connection to. If winter is the cold miserable season because the sun feels far away from us, is there a spiritual season when Christ feels far away from us?
What can tilt you’r axis away from the lord? Could it be Grief, Illness, Loneliness or Depression. Or is it the entire world that is on a tilt? Poverty, Abortion, War, Injustice in so many ways our world seems pointed in the wrong direction. Saint John of the Cross called the rough times in our spiritual journey The dark night of the soul. The moment Christs presence seems to pull away, the moment Gods kingdom seems further off,this is a winter of the spirit.
This season is not an easy thing to talk about. But when Saint John believed every catholic would encounter it. And I believe what often sets the great minds and mystics of our church apart is that they appreciate this time of winter. Saint Ignatius called it Desolation. Ignatius taught that these desolate winters were a necessary part of true faith and growth. Modern day mystic Richard Rohr has said we need to learn to trust in “the dark times” of our lives. Rohr claims these dark seasons can be our best teachers.
What all of these great teachers are trying to say to us is that our dark seasons are not times too feel ashamed or to hide from. Every christian must go through a winter of the soul. It is in this season of winter that we are tested. It is in this season of winter that we can show true faith. In this season of winter we have an opportunity for immense growth. But it will take discipline to make use of this opportunity. And these disciplines are laid out in the season of Advent.
Lets take a turn around the Advent wreath.
The first candle in the Advent wreath symbolizes hope. We will never find our way out of the cold without hope. No matter how dark the night dawn will break. No matter how cold the winter springtime will come. But how can we know this is true of our spiritual winter.
By our own ways we do not. We can not know by our own senses what course our lives will take. We can not understand by own minds how Christs kingdom will right the injustices in our world. But this God has promised us. God will not ignore the crys of the faithful forever. God will renew our would. And so we have hope in winter, but only by the grace of God. The first practice of Advent is to light this candle of Hope and keeping it lit. We must not forget the promises and the faithfulness of our father.
The second candle in the Advent wreath symbolizes peace. When the air gets cold and the snow gets deep every step away from our door can seem like a struggle. But we can not conquer the blizard by forcing our might against it. If we rage against the darkness only we will be exhausted. To endure we must find a inner peaceful resolve. We must accept that even this season is under Gods control.
Again grace alone will accomplish this. We can seek peace through the sacraments. We can find peace through silence, prayer and meditation. We will need grace to accept our deep wounds we can not change. We will need grace to still our anger towards the profound injustices in our world. The second practice of Advent is finding this peace and keeping this candle lit.
The third candle is a profound and beautiful mystery. The rose candle is lit on Guaduate Sunday as a symbol of our Joy.Even in the dead of winter the children come out to play. They build snow men. They race sleds. It is not just Christmas, even in winter we rejoice!
No true friend would tell you can just “be happy” in your desolate winter. But as Christians every season is a time to rejoice. It is the audacity of the Christian faith that we will sing Gods praises even while we mourn. While we toil for justice in our unjust world we will continue to proclaim the kingdom of heaven. Because the kingdom of heaven has come! The seeds of this kingdom of already rests within us. To rejoice in winter is to thank God for something he has not delivered yet. But by the grace of God we can rejoice. Because by the grace of God we already feel what is to come. The third practice of Advent is to rejoice. When we can rejoice in winter we know our springtime must be soon.
The forth candle in our Advent wreath symbolizes the light of Love. The ultimate destination of all spiritual journeys is love. At first it might seem unexpected to find love in the harsh winds of winter but cold nights can only draw our Christian family tighter. When you reflect across the seasons in your own life, which do you value more the continent company fair weather friends or the steadfast embrace of our winter partners.
Christ will use the injustice in our world to call us into even greater solidarity. Though vast inequalities may separate us we are all united in an ache for a better world. We all grown for the kingdom. Taking the Advent journey towards this kingdom we long from means traveling over bridges between us. And these bridges are built with love. No program can change the world. We must build relationships to change our world.
In our nights of inner pain we must learn to reveal our wounds to Christ and to our brothers in sisters. We must choose to open up these wounds to let this love pour in. Christ turns our wounds into an invitation to greater compassion. From our weakness he creates strength. The greatest saints are always wounded healers. It is their wounds that allowed them to feel the renewing touch of Christ. It was experiencing this healing themselves that allowed them to be healers for love. The fourth practice of Advent is the most profoundly important. The ultimate practice of Christian faith is love.
And then the wreath completes the circle. Just as winter becomes springtime as it always will. In the center of some wreathes is a fifth candle. The center candle is a long white candle that symbolizes the love of Christ. Christ who is always at the center of our lives and never far away even in winter. Remember though our lives must pass through these winter months God is never far away.
My Advent challenge to you is to find someone who is passing through a dark time and reach out to comfort them. If you are passing through a spiritual winter share this with a brother or sister in Christ. One of the great gifts of the liturgical calender is it helps us to learn to take our spiritual journeys as a community. While you may not be mourning someone in the body is. Take this time to mourn with them Real religion is learned in these moments of giving and receiving.