Advent: The season of holy longing

by Gregor Sneddon

For many, Christmas begins somewhere in late October, a frenzy of credit card swiping, beverage drinking, card sending, and shortbread gorging all climaxing on December 25, followed by the Christmas hangover just in time to prepare for New Year’s. A time to be cherished, indeed, but what happened to Advent?

Advent? Huh? Yes, Advent.

Advent is the season beginning four Sundays before December 25, a season of anticipation, of hope, of yearning for the coming of Emmanuel, God among us.

The tone of Advent descends to the depths of the human condition, the shared spirituality of all creation. It is the great yearning felt at the centre of our being that is the root, the pulse of creation itself: the mystical desire for wholeness, completion, and union with God, often related in ecstatic, even erotic poetry across cultures and traditions.

Beginning at the primordial place of desire for the Other, this holy longing resonates with the cry of hope of the prisoner, the sick, the dying, the lonely, the marginalized. It is this stirring, this feeling of incompleteness, of hope and longing, that sends the seeker on her great pilgrimage. As Augustine prays: “God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you.”

To mark this season of holy longing, St. Luke’s Anglican Church will be hosting “Seven Nights” of Contemplative Vespers, the ancient monastic twilight service. The community will chant, in Gregorian tones, under the leadership of Barclay McMillan, the Psalms and traditional prayers including the sacred “O Antiphons.”

The “O Antiphons” are seven prayers written somewhere in the fourth century, marking each of the seven days leading to Christmas Eve, giving voice to this sacred yearning for the Incarnation. The “O” is the cry of the heart and signifies the bursting fullness of the pregnant Mother of God.

The series of services are contemplative in that we will be savouring a period of 20 minutes of silent meditation and the crystal and healing bowls of Jay Schwed and Élise Benoît. The Tibetan tradition of singing bowls offers a powerful tonal experience to lead us into a greater experience of silence.

The experience of spiritual pilgrimage is a journey of paradox, seeking and waiting, hope and receptivity. A journey taken in the present moment, it is an unspeakable mystery, desiring for what is beyond ourselves, an unknown better, a greater experience of wholeness, of what it is to be human.

We seek and we wait with open hearts, consenting to that which is promised, somehow here within us, freshly falling grace just awaiting a heart in which to be born.

In preparation for the coming light of Christmas, this year, take some time to listen, to long, to hope.

December 17 through December 23, 5:30 pm at St. Luke`s Anglican Church, 760 Somerset West, Ottawa. All are welcome, without exception.