Attentive waiting, beauty and hope: trying what Advent will do

By Jill Segger
December 8, 2017

Lying awake, waiting for first light, longing for some deliverance from fear, pain, despair, helplessness, lassitude. These are experiences that few will escape at some time in their lives. They are characteristic of much that is human. They are also the notes of this overlooked season of Advent.

I belong to a faith group which does not heed a liturgical calendar. We worship as the spirit leads us. Nonetheless, I have long felt Advent to be a rather Quakerly season. It has always been our way to watch, listen, wait in attentive hope. This is the spring of our action, both personal and corporate.

The Advent liturgies of mainstream Christianity and their cultural off-shoots speak to my experience and condition. Darkling sentinels watch and long for the light. The watchman wonders when the night will pass. The prophets call from the desert. The people dwell in darkness but cling to a barely believable hope that a Dayspring will dawn on their desolate condition.

Quakers are not generally theologians, systematic or otherwise. We tend more towards theopoetics – those qualities of allegory which, as with poetry, may take on different and new meanings throughout life as the changing reader experiences the fluid text.

This concept of 'text' is wide. The spirit, being that of a creator, may address us in poetry, scripture, music, visual art, or in those moments of extasis, which, even as we return to our everyday standing place, we may simultaneously welcome and doubt.

This theologically ungrammatical approach is not mainstream in 'organised' religion. But in its looking to humankind's natural harmony with that which is beyond its own doctrinal prescriptions, it is neither anti-intellectual nor dangerously subjective. Drawing on the most enduring representations of the beauty which is both ancient and new, it is rooted in millennia of attention to the Divine spirit, however we may choose to name that concept.

Advent, with its multi-layered message, has been largely replaced by 'the run up to Christmas' in our present culture. The attentive waiting, the promise of a time yet to come, on which Isaiah called out in prophetic hope: “Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness: let the earth open, and let them bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together” are more complex and demanding than carols playing on a loop, tinsel and Yuletide sentimentality. Waiting and listening are not attributes highly valued by the advertisers and hucksters who want to sell us a Nativity which can at best, be a temporary displacement activity.

So, bruised and crushed by injustice, suffering, conflict, wars and tempted to despair though yearning to hope, let us try what the Advent spirit will do. Whatever is beautiful, less familiar, ancient but eternal, within our reach, if not always our grasp – let's try to make that our path for the next 16 days.

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© 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: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.co/quakerpen

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