Catching the frequencies of the unfamiliar in Advent

By Jill Segger
November 29, 2016

 November's end. The low season of a terrible year. We have seen suffering in Syria that is all but incomprehensible. Refugees have poured out from this, and other war zones, drowning in the Mediterranean, existing in the Calais Jungle, dying on the beaches of holiday islands and trudging in weakness and despair across a hostile, or at best indifferent Europe.

A dishonest and sour-natured campaign in our own country has exploited years of political and economic failure to bring us to the brink of leaving the European Union, giving hideous validation to racist and xenophobic behaviours which tear at society. This is the backdrop to the murder of an MP, shot and stabbed in the streets of her constituency by a hate-filled man who could only see her compassionate and inclusive beliefs as 'treachery'.

The United States, against every hope and bulwark of reason, has elected to its highest office a man so utterly unfitted for the office of President, that the world reels in incredulity and fear. 'Post-truth' politics has become so much part of our discourse that it has been declared 'word of the year' by the Oxford Dictionaries. Political careers and reputations have crumbled to dust, taking with them even the possibility of trust in politics-as-was. Judges – guardians and symbols of the separation of powers – are portrayed on the front page of the Daily Mail as 'enemies of the people' for defending the constitution and the sovereignty of Parliament. A mob spirit has been goaded into howling for the destruction of those safeguards and balances which check the powers of a legislature. Hacking at the branches upon which we sit, we are recruited to spiteful and craven self-harm by the forces of anger and unreason.

And at this time of falling temperatures and diminishing daylight, when we are often spiritually, emotionally and physically at a low ebb, all the pressures and false promises of the 21st century consumer Christmas begin to press in upon us. A low season indeed.

The 'church year' does not generally speak to my condition, nor to the thinking of my tradition. But Advent, with its spirit of watchfulness and attentive waiting has begun. And during these weeks more widely thought of as the 'build-up to Christmas', it may offer the hint of a life-giving alternative way. In poetry, music, scripture and image, its language of is that of light in darkness, renewal, deliverance, transformation – and above all, of humble vigilance. This is not the natural text of our turbulent and increasingly contentious times.

Catching the frequencies of the unfamiliar may be difficult. We are attuned to activity to the detriment of critical discernment, often valuing the density of our diaries as an index of our worth. Proclamation trumps listening, and winning an argument may be prized over learning from it. We are fearful of waiting in case others push before us and reluctant to be silent lest they think we are without opinions. Sometimes, in quieter moments, we catch a rumour of the Commonwealth of Heaven but the need to be 'doing' and speaking will often drown the still, small voice.

Whatever our belief system, looking and longing for a better world in a better time is embedded in our nature. That a time of attentive quietness – an intensified pause – might be a powerful tool seems counter-intuitive. But if we were able to re-calibrate, even just a little, over the next three weeks, the habit of noticing rather than seeking to be noticed could serve us well.


© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: You can follow Jill on Twitter at:

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