In September, I raised the money I needed and went off to Gyumri, Armenia, where I implement an artist residency with women artists called New Illuminations. I returned on the last day of October. While I digest the advancement of that project and write 100 thank you notes, the season is tugging me towards my Advent Dark Journal project.
What tugs me, does not pull me down.
I let Advent pull me in.
Last year, my friend Sejal asked me what Advent Dark Journal project is about, and why I do it. Here is my response:
“During Advent, which in the Lutheran church calendar begins four Sundays before Christmas or in the Eastern Orthodox church begins 6 Sundays before Christmas…or in my homemade don’t-do-organized-religion-anymore calendar–takes in to consideration Solstice, and the 12 Holy Nights as described in the Anthroposophic tradition as the 12 nights after Christmas…I have carved my own tradition of entering this period of long dark nights with my Advent Dark Journal practice. I heed the seasonal call to withdraw to a quieter solitude. This is antithetical to popular culture in the United States.
I start on the Sunday after Thanksgiving and go until January 6, Epiphany in the Christian tradition. I drape my altar in black fabric, work in to a collage journal of black painted pages and work mostly with images painted over with dark colors, I study various texts about winter and darkness, like “Winter: A Spiritual Biography of the Season.”
Advent Dark Journal grew out of many years of being entirely depleted by Christmas, overdoing everything for my children, over-compensating for not having a strong religious identity any more, or worse, not having a community in which my entire family felt welcome. I have gotten terribly sad during this period in the past, and often very sick. I have felt soul-wasted and undernourished, overstuffed with sweets, and isolated in rooms full of people. Also, I miss singing in choirs as I did for all my life. I stopped when I could not sit in church any longer.
Out of necessity, I developed this habit of Advent. I love the meaning of “advent,” which means “the arrival.” My habit touches on Celtic and pagan practices. I walk in the dark. I make company with the shadowed edges of the day. I have a chair on my porch where I sit out at dusk.
This project has feet in the soil. I am a gardener and friend of farmers. Thus, I am very aware of how this season feels in the earth, with seeds and soil. I feel how potential rises from necessary time spent with darkness. The bowl you see in this photo (below) is a glass bowl that was a favorite of my Mom’s, filled with black beans, dried orange peels, rose petals, and other dried flowers from my garden. This period of time makes me want to stand close to the necessary death of things. The reality is that we have to release in order to grow, but before that growing can occur, we must gestate. And gestation must happen surrounded by dark. That is the long answer. xoS”
I feel how potential rises from necessary time spent with darkness
I will be unpacking Advent Dark Journal as the weeks arrive. You can learn more about this workshop, which offers two levels of participation, here.
How do you feel during Advent, or whatever you call this end of year, jolly holiday season?
It is rare to meet someone, even a person who has no active faith life or is entirely immersed in church life, who tells me that her experience of the holiday season is uplifting. Many people feel pressured to behave in ways that they don’t feel during this time of year. Holiday cheer can get oppressive or shaming, if you feel anything but cheerful for all the various reasons that get activated during the holidays. I learned in Al-Anon, the organization that supports friends and families of alcoholics, that the three main causes for alcoholism are Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years. I think that is one of the aphorisms that run around the meeting rooms of Al-Anon, but it made sense to me when I heard it and it still rings true.
I am not at all suggesting that if you find joy and satisfaction during the holiday season, that you are avoiding some large gremlin hiding behind the Christmas tree.
I am only offering an alternative to the confusion of spiritual and secular that explodes in bright, gaudy commercialism and to the exclusive feeling that some religious practices espouse.
Advent Dark Journal is inspired by John O’Donohue in his book, “To Bless the Space Between Us.”
“We have unlearned the grace of presence and belonging. With the demise of religion, many people are left stranded in a chasm of emptiness and doubt; without rituals to recognize, celebrate, or negotiate the vital thresholds of people’s lives, the key crossings pass by, undistinguished from the mundane, everyday rituals of life. This is where we need to retrieve and reawaken our capacity for blessing.”
Advent is a threshold time worthy of heightened attention.
It is a time worthy of daily practices that support our buoyant spirits.
It is a time worthy of immersing in whatever sweetens your soul for the long months of winter. If that is a gingerbread cookie for dunking in hot cocoa, I have a great recipe here. If that is a different way of inhabiting this period of time in your daily creative practice, I invite you to Advent Dark Journal.
No matter how you celebrate the coming holidays, I send you all my love.
May you find places of belonging in which to reside and may you bring your celebrations with you. May your travels be safe and light. May what brings you joy bubble up and may you give that joy all the attention it needs to rise forth.
I will be near, candles lit and the tea brewing.
Thank you dear readers, long-time or newly subscribed. Your dedication to reading these posts, to considering the workshops I offer and to participating differently in your lives is a source of great pleasure to me. I am always grateful for the time you spend here and the ways we rise forth together.
PS Birth announcements!
Two new books came in to the world in the past week.
Janet Elsbach published Extra Helping (Roost Books 2018). It is full of recipes and ways of helping people in need of love, support, and community. You can find it here. Some of Janet’s writing with Out of the Mouths of Babes is here.
The Walloon Writers Review has published its 4th edition, which includes a short fiction story, written by me. If you live in the northern part of Lower Michigan, the book is sold in local bookstores in that area. If you, like me, want to order it, please go here.