Advent comes at a very inconvenient time of year for those of us in school. I know exactly why this is: both were designed to be in harmony with the agricultural year. The liturgical year starts after the harvest is over, walking closely through the story of Christianity from December through May, leaving the busy harvest months for the less intense season of “Ordinary Time.” But the school year was trying to pull the same schtick: kids are only let out of school during the busiest summer months of early harvest. For those of us on the semester system, this means that the two busiest times of the school year fall during the two most spiritually demanding times of the year: Advent and Eastertide. Since most of us no longer participate int he agricultural year in the same way, this always seems pointlessly, frustratingly inconvenient to me. I can’t tell you how much I wish Christian schools would re-wire their schedules so this didn’t happen. Even moving the fall semester a couple weeks earlier would help dramatically.
Advent is more intense than Lent in some ways, first because it has more activities associated with it – you have to remember to find your Advent wreath, get new candles for it, and make a spot on your cluttered kitchen table for it; and after all “preparing the way of the Lord” is a little more bustly and not quite as penitent as Lent – and you have only half as much time as Lent to enjoy it.
As it is, Jared and I have not decorated for Christmas really for the past couple of years, because the moment that we are through our final papers, we pack up to spend a few days with our families for the holidays. All that to say that Advent for me has to consist less in daily devotions around a wreath, in seasonal hymns and Joshua trees, but more in an inner awareness of anticipation.
Because of course, our lives are all about anticipation right now. I wonder if that’s why I haven’t been blogging as much; I’m very focused on inner awareness and preparation for the experience of birth and the beginnings of parenthood.
Advent has a sort of natural association with pregnancy. For the past two years, I have rather hated that association, since I was supposed to be pregnant but wasn’t. That makes this year’s association preciously bittersweet. Honestly, I feel as if I’ve been pregnant for two and a half years, not just seven months.
There is bittersweetness in both sides of this story. Our little Cyrilla will arrive amidst ridiculous levels of joy, but since she also brings on drastic (I daresay violent) life changes, I think it’s appropriate to view the coming years of limits and sacrifice with an acknowledgement of some kind of loss. We’ll be free to do all God has called us to, but our lives will be quite limited in ways they have never been before. I accept that with gladness and thanksgiving, but I am unwilling to put rose-colored glasses on it all the time. At the same time, the sadness over our other babies has softened with time, like you’re always promised will happen but never believe. This year, I just want to celebrate them, letting myself feel the sadness that they aren’t with me, but doing the work of a parent to make sure they are not forgotten. Because every life is precious, no matter how small in size or short in duration.
The crux of my personal experience of anticipation right now, though, is about birth. I have been fascinated by childbirth since I was six years old and witnessed my little sister’s birth, and wanted to be a midwife until I was in middle school and figured out that was a little odd. Over the past three years of on-and-off pregnancy, I’ve become passionate about natural birth, and Jared and I have educated ourselves about it extensively. I’ve never been afraid of giving birth without drugs, or of the pain associated with it. Much to the contrary, I look forward to it with increasing eagerness the closer it gets. (I realize this makes me rather odd, and there will be those among you that feel the need to tell me I am naive, and share your horror stories of painful birth. I respect those stories, and I respect the fact that, all education aside, I have not actually been through this yet, so I try to keep an open mind. But I have to limit my openness so that I don’t contribute to the fear that makes things worse. So forgive me if I don’t respond; it’s just because I’m not going to argue over what is quite literally a personal experience.)
In the last week, having lost the participation of our homebirth midwife (and with her, all hope of a homebirth this time around), I’ve had to confront just how existentialist I am about the whole thing. It isn’t so much that I want to be in control of the experience; I am really okay if nothing goes according to plan. I just don’t want to find myself in a position where someone else, because of ignorance and undue power, takes that experience away from me unnecessarily, because it has become so important to me.
Giving birth, it seems, is like this tiny microcosm of the whole of Christian spiritual life: being tested and tried through pressure and pain to become a different sort of person. In birth, one is becoming a mother, and the baby is becoming a participant in the human world. Believe me, I really don’t like pain, and I daresay I’ve been through my fair share of it in this short life. It’s been mostly emotional pain, which I handle far worse and am much more viscerally afraid of than physical pain. But I’ve been through enough of it to have some idea of what it’s ultimately for. It’s for being born. For the Christian, all pain (and suffering, though it isn’t the same as pain) finds itself on the cross. That’s the place the pain can go, and be, and bear fruit.
So that is what I anticipate, with joy and a healthy bit of trepidation, but no dread at all. I am going to be born as a mother, as a person whose life is no longer her own. This baby comes into my life as a complete unknown, as a little flame of the refiner’s fire that gives warmth even as she melts away my self-obsession. Like all Christian relationships, she is a tiny Christ to me as I am one to her, one of the million incarnate pointers we need to become like and become one with the true Christ.
And that’s what we anticipate, isn’t it? Access. When Jesus became a human that we could hear, see, touch, remember, eat and drink, we in our embodied existence gained access to God the Father. By the Spirit we are made in Christ a new creation, we are born again, both once for all and continuously, as embodied life demands. And it’s all towards being able to walk on the grass of heaven, to participate in the Triune life of unbridled love. The whole point of life is getting further up and further into that Life, a journey whose every step seems to require death and rebirth, made possible in the Cross.
Well, that was a pretty ramble for early in the morning. I think I shall go take a shower and get back to sleep.