12.24.2011

Love, Advent, Thin Places, and otherwise

Merry Christmas Eve Friends!!
I just cannot believe it's already December 24th...and almost Christmas Day! It's so funny how when you're a child, you wait all year long for this day to arrive, but once you hit adulthood, this time of the year comes and goes like any other day of the year. It's quite sad, actually. So sad, in fact, that it makes this year seem all the more special to me. You see, James and I seem to have been broken up the past two Christmas'. We break up around Halloween and end up getting back together around Easter...missing the most wonderful holidays. In the four years that we've known each other and "been together," this is only our second Christmas with each other. It's been so rocky and hard the past couple years and we're finally in such an amazing place, that we've decided to make this year extra special. We've done just about everything together...went Black Friday shopping, set up the Christmas tree, wrapped presents, hung the stockings by the fireplace, went driving around town looking at Christmas lights, bought the Christmas turkey together, and today, we're going to frost sugar cookies, and eat Christmas Eve dinner together. It's been quite magical if I do say so myself. I couldn't be more grateful for everything we've walked through and where we are now. I treasure this man...and our love.

















I also got a little creative and decided to hang some really pretty Christmas ornaments from our chandelier! Thank you to Pinterest for this wonderful idea :)
On a more serious note, I was doing some reading on Advent a couple weeks ago. Advent was never something that was a tradition in our family, nor was it ever taught to me what it really is. After learning about it, I think it's a tradition that I will teach my children and have it become one of our Christmas traditions.
Advent is about waiting, anticipating, yearning. Advent is the question, the pleading, and Christmas is the answer to that question, the response to the howl. There are moments in this season when I don't feel a lot like Christmas, but I do feel like Advent.
Advent gives us another option beyond false Christmas cheer or Scrooge. Advent says the baby is coming, but He isn't here yet, that hope is on its way, but the yearning is still very real. Sometimes, depending on what we've lost this year, Advent is what saves us from giving up on Christmas and all its buoyant twinkling-light hope forever. Advent allows us to tell the truth about what we're grieving, without giving up on the gorgeous and extravagant promise of Christmas, the baby on His way.
In my quest to find out what Advent really is, I read a chapter in a book about the Irish culture, and since I am Irish, I decided to really take this idea to heart. One of the Celtic ideas is the concept of thin places. A thin place, according to the Celtic mystics, is a place where the boundary between the natural world and the supernatural one is more permeable - thinner, if you will. 
Thin places: places where the boundary between the divine world and the human world becomes almost nonexistent, and the two, divine and human, can for a moment, dance together uninterrupted. Some are physical places, and some aren't places at all, but states of being or circumstances or seasons. 
Christmas is a thin place, a season during which even the hardest-hearted of people think about what matters, when even the most locked-up individuals loosen their grasps for just a moment, in the face of the deep beauty and hope of Christmas. The shimmer of God's presence, not always plainly visible in our world, is more visible at Christmas. 
When we find a thin place, anytime, anywhere, we should live differently in the face of it, because if we don't, we miss some of the best moments that life with God has to offer us. These thin places are gifts, treasures, and they're worth changing our lives for. Reach through from human to sacred every time the goodness of this season moves you. A thin place is an opportunity to be more aware of the divine fingerprints all over this world, and Christmas is one invitation after another to do that. 
When you hear music that pierces your spirit, thank God for the gift of music. When you witness generosity that reminds you of the deep goodness of humanity, thank God for the way He created us. When you feel a profound sense of beauty, thank God for it. When the traditions and smells and sounds of Christmas that you love and wait for all year long overwhelm you and you think, I love this world we live in, thank God for those things. When the faces of your children or your parents shock you with the love you feel for them, thank God.
There's another kind of thin place, and we find ourselves in these places when our lives and our hearts are broken open. Brokenness has a way of allowing the supernatural into our lives in the same way that deep joy or great beauty do - and maybe, I'm finding, even more. Let me be clear: brokenness doesn't automatically bring us to the thin place, the sacred place where God's breath and touch are closer than our own skin. Heartbreak brings us lots of places - to despair, to bitterness, to emptiness, to numbness, to isolation. But because God is just that good, if we allow the people who love us to walk with us right through the brokenness, it can also lead to a deep sense of God's presence. When things fall apart, the broken places allow all sorts of things to enter, and one of them is the presence of God. 
For some people, this Christmas is, if I can stretch the phrase, doubly thin. It's Christmas - one kind of thin place, and it's a season of loss, an entirely different kind of thin place. Maybe it's the first Christmas without a family member (or, if you're like me, it's Christmas #3 without a family member, and I still find myself in this thin place), and your heart has been wholly battered that it allows God's presence and voice to seep into it at every turn. Or maybe a relationship broken this year hangs over the season like a veil. You are alone, freshly. 
I don't know what you've lost this year: a life, a friend, a child, a dream, a job, a home. I don't know what's broken your heart this year, but I do know that whatever it is, you may feel the loss of it even more acutely at Christmas. 
I believe deeply that God does His best work in our lives during time of great heartbreak and loss, and I believe that much of that rich work is done by the hands of the people who love us, who dive into the wreckage with us and show us who God is, over and over and over.
There are years when the Christmas spirit is hard to come by, and it's in those seasons that make Advent so much more powerful. Consider it a less flashy but still very beautiful way of being present to the season. Give up for a while your false and failing attempts at merriment, and thank God for thin places, and for Advent, for a season that understands longing and loneliness and long nights. Let yourself fall open to Advent, to anticipation, to the belief that what is empty will be filled, what is broken will be repaired, and what is lost can always be found, no matter how many times it's been lost. ( taken from Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist)

This is where I am this season.

My prayer is that what you've lost, and what I've lost this year, will fade a little bit in the beauty of this season, that for a few moments at least, what is right and good and worth believing will outshine all the darkness, within us and around us.

Merry Christmas. 
"For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." Isaiah 9:6