“Advent!  …a holy season in which we connect again with our ‘inconsolable longing,’ as C.S. Lewis called it—our yearning for the One who is to come and is also, mysteriously, the One who has come already—come as a child, come as fellow-sufferer, come as Saviour, and yet whose coming, already achieved, we hold at bay from ourselves, so that we have to learn afresh each year, even each day, how to let Him come to us again.” —Malcolm Guite

Several years ago, just prior to the beginning of Advent, I felt a sense of dread billowing within my spirit. I didn’t have the energy to head back into the Christmas season with its relentless pressures and obligations. Nor did I have the fortitude to stomach the superficial religious platitudes, and consequent secular defences associated with the culture wars surrounding the meaning of the season. And then, knowing my own lack of disciplined restraint, I was already feeling bloated with excess before the season even started: too much food, too much drink, too much visiting, too many gifts.

Part of me wanted this excess to go away, but another part of me was still wanting something… longing for something…waiting for something.

My spirit still thirsts after understanding; My heart is still hungry…When will it be satisfied? When will it find full bliss?
Father John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ

waiting-on-god1

What is it we are waiting for? What is this“inconsolable longing” that dogs our days?

My father, a prison chaplain for most of his life, did a lot of work in addictions counselling. He and his colleagues came to understand the drive behind addictions was an acute longing for transcendencefor a profound and intimate connection to the One who is wholly otherin short, for God. And all of our strivings, appetites and desires, all of our ambitions, rituals and even friendships are, in some recessed way, fuelled by an innate longing to return to the One who comes to us, and who meets us in Christ.

There is nothing wrong with our innate drives themselves, any more than there is something wrong with our thirst for water, or hunger for food. In fact, the very existence of hunger and thirst are the first reliable indictors that there may well be something like food and water to meet these needs. The problem comes when we medicate those drives with false consolations that only increase the appetite and leave us unfulfilled.

I am learning, or trying to learn, what Saint John of the Cross stated so succinctly regarding what ultimately satisfies our souls:

“Not the goods of the earth nor the goods of heaven, but only the honor and glory of God.”

Advent begins with focused attention to the agony of our deepest longings. The task is to let the truth behind those longings rise to the surface before suppressing them with lesser fare, because the longings themselves may be the first reliable indicators of the One thing that leads to true fulfillment, satiation and joy.

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KEENING FOR THE DAWN

music by Steve Bell
lyrics by Steve Bell and Malcolm Guite

On and on the night goes on
Brooding dark before the dawn
We are waiting…

Worried lips rehearse our creeds
Bellies swollen with Your seed
We are waiting…

Hardened shards of broken bread
Small consolations in Your stead
Soured wine a tonic for the pain
Dutifully we take our fill
Still, we long to see Your face again

Keening for the dawn as such
Stirs the memory of Your touch
We are waiting…
We are waiting…

Hungry work these endless feasts
Shrivelling as we all increase
We are waiting…

Wearied eyes take in the sights
Smarting under tinselled lights
We are waiting…

Break the too familiar word
Hearing strains we’ve never heard
A double edge that pierces through the pain
And all that we shall see fulfilled
The dawning day we see Your face again

Keening for the dawn as such
Stirs the memory of Your touch
We are waiting…
We are waiting…

 

The above  is Chapter 3 from the Advent collection in my Pilgrim Year collection of devotional, multi-media e-books on the spirituality of the Christian calendar year.  The complete collection—Advent, Christmastide, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Eastertide and Ordinarytime— is available to read online, or through the dedicated app for $19.99, and can be found at www.pilgrimyear.com

Advent see-through

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