I am a liturgical rebel. I am aware of this more and more each year. I love the seasons of the liturgical year but I find many of the established practices either boring or irrelevant to my life. I have a growing urge to apply my creativity to each season and come up with practices that are relevant for me personally. I love the freedom to change my practices each year based on my own emotional and spiritual condition, the state of the world and the grief I bear because of the climate catastrophe unfolding around us, and the wonder of being a child of God in the midst of our ever-changing world.
Tomorrow, November 15th, marks the beginning of Celtic Advent, a season I embrace a few years ago when I recognized the need for a longer preparation time for Christmas. Celtic Advent begins 40 days before Christmas, about 2 weeks before the start of traditional Advent. I love this extended period of preparation. I also love that there are no set rules to follow. No known symbols specifically for the Celtic Advent season. So I can invite the Spirit to stir my imagination and creativity to create my own.
I spent the weekend reading through the section about creating a contemplative garden in Digging Deeper – The Art of Contemplative Gardening – refreshing my memory of the process that so often underlies my creation of a new contemplative garden. This process, based on one I discovered in Day Shildkret’s beautiful book Morning Altars, is – as I comment in Digging Deeper – a very sacred process. It encourages me to dream inviting the Holy Spirit to direct my dreaming. I then wander my house and garden to gather significant items and small plants to incorporate in my garden. The creation step is always a fun and often protracted one. My garden tends to change and morph over the time I use it for meditation. New thoughts, ideas and inspiration prompts the addition of new elements that draw me closer to the heart of God. The last step will be letting go. When the season for which I created the garden ends, I find release and freedom in dismantling what I created.
This new garden replaces the one I dismantled over the weekend. It uses the same beautiful clam shell as its base but most of the elements are new. Many are items I collected on Iona during my last visit. Some distinctive rocks, a few strands of lamb’s wool and a dried piece of kelp. At the back of the garden is a delicate coral frond that reminds me of a winter tree, denuded of leaves but revealing the beautiful skeleton of the tree beneath. Its inclusion comes from asking myself: “What do I grieve as the autumn leaves fall and I let go of the beauty of this passing season? What do I look forward to as winter approaches?” One thing I always rejoice in on my winter walks is the breathtaking beauty of the branches that it reveals. These beautiful tree skeletons only appear for a few short months, but they are worth the loss of the autumn colours to be able to appreciate their full glory.
Beside the garden stands one of my Celtic crosses. It is embellished with scenes from the Bible and the original cross would have been a site of learning. I incorporated this to remind myself that Advent is a season of learning and I need to pay attention to all the stories I hear at this season.
My new garden combines well with the practice I established a couple of weeks ago as my early morning devotional time was increasingly spent in the dark. I sit in the dark for a few minutes. Take some deep breathes in and out to focus me on the presence of God, then I recite this prayer adapted from John 1:4,5:
God, it is dark, but in you there is always light.
Christ is the light of the world,
and his life brought light to everyone.
His light shines in the darkness,
And the darkness will never extinguish it.
Then I light the candles in my circle of light. Most of them are battery-operated, but I always end with lighting a real candle. It stands just behind my new garden. As the winter solstice and the darkest day of the year approach, I tend to light more real candles and will definitely add some to my garden so that by Christmas time it is a blaze of light.
I then sit in silent meditation for several minutes. At the end of my time, as the sun slowly adds natural light to my world, I recite another prayer
God I thank you for your light
That gives light not just to everyone,
But to every part of creation.
I thank you that you are present,
In all things, around all things,
Shining through all things.
These kinds of rituals really enrich my life and my faith. And as Christmas approaches I search for more such rituals to strengthen the meaning of the season. This year I sense a yearning to focus on a Blue Christmas celebration, which in the Northern hemisphere, coincides with the winter solstice. So many people are grieving – the loss of loved ones from COVID and other causes, the loss of property from hurricane and floods, the loss of economic security and growing hunger. Deep within myself there is an ever-present grief for the destruction of creation and its impact on all our lives. I particularly love some of the practices that my friend Mark Pierson in New Zealand, shared with me – an arrangement of empty chairs to commemorate those we have lost, or using zip ties and barbed wire to represent our grief for the abandoned and despised in our world. I like to end such celebrations on a note of hope. This year I toy with creating Birdseed wreaths for the birds that flitter around our garden, as part of my Blue Christmas remembrances. They are an ever-present sign of hope for me. Another possibility is creating a nativity scene with a difference.
Another fun ritual for this season is the preparation for Christmas festivities, beginning with my very English fruitcake for which I soaked the fruit this weekend. I love to cook all kinds of goodies at this season. I also love to eat them, and more than anything love to share them with others. We used to hold a Christmas Open house each year, but Tom and I are still not comfortable with large gatherings so will restrict ourselves to small gatherings with friends. I will also send a lot of the goodies to friends and relatives in other parts of the country and world. That too is part of what I delight in at this season. This year it is made even more fun as I will delve into the Godspacelight Community Cookbook for new recipes and inspiration. And a copy of the book will sneak its way into every package that I send.
I encourage you to allow your liturgical rebel to surface as we head towards Christmas. Spend time in prayer allowing the Holy Spirit to guide you. Be willing to let go and create something new. I think you too will be inspired by how much it enriches your faith and draws to close to God.
Join Christine Sine for a time of quiet reflection on December 3rd, 2022. Slow down the busyness of the season and nourish your soul with contemplative focus and reflection. All the details can be found here: