Monday, November 28, 2011

What Season?

You hear it everywhere: 'Tis the season! But what season? As a friend of mine on FaceBook commented, there are literally dozens, perhaps hundreds of winter holy days that happen between now and the secular New Year. While I don't celebrate them all, I do honor many traditions.  In our home, we celebrate Advent in the Christian tradition, Yule in the generic pagan tradition, Solstice in my Hellenic tradition, Hannukah in the Jewish tradition, and sometimes Bodhi Day in the Buddhist tradition. Each has its own tenor, its own feel to it, and each is holy and true and wise and full of lessons for us. Perhaps the goal is not so much to celebrate all the time, but to see the celebration in every day.

It's hard to believe that it's Advent already. We lit the first of the four Advent candles at church yesterday, and focused on the theme of peace. Our pastor suggested that Advent as a whole is a time to become more aware, to be awake, to focus on what we have while being open and ready for new opportunities. After all, we get what we expect, and if our minds are dragging and our spirits are low, that's the best we'll be able to do. He used the image of Tigger and Eeyore from the Winnie the Pooh series. Tigger is almost always happy, bouncing from place to place, finding the bright side of life no matter what's thrown at him. The result is that he sees the world as a happy, peaceful place and so, to a certain extent, it is. Eeyore, on the other hand, sees a rain cloud on every horizon and an earthquake on every nice day. Hence, he is always depressed, expecting the worst. Even if a good day happens, it's only a precursor to what will likely be a horrid day tomorrow. These become self fulfilling prophecies.

The other thing our pastor brought up was a lecture by Randy Pausch, done at Carnegie Mellon University just after his diagnosis with terminal liver cancer. It's called The Last Lecture but not because of his impending passing. The lecture series he was presenting for had held that name for many years, the idea being to present something that would be your legacy, as if you had only one last lecture that you could give to the students. As he puts it in the video, "I finally nailed the venue, and they changed the name!" I haven't watched the whole lecture yet (it's an hour and a half long, and it demands your full attention) but what I have seen is incredibly inspiring. Live in the day is the basic message. You can't change tomorrow, you can't change yesterday, so make today count. Enjoy it for what it is. How many of us can say we do that? And we're not dying.

So what IS Advent, anyhow? The word 'advent' means 'coming' or 'long awaited' or even 'just arrived.' We talk about the advent of the computer age, and the advent of the automobile without blinking. The Christian Advent is simply the beginning, or coming, of the Christ Child. It's more a symbolic (in the version I practice) than literal - most Biblical (and other) scholars now agree that it is almost impossible that Christ was born during the winter, and moreso that there likely wasn't a lot of snow in his area of birth anyhow. The story of the birth of Yeshua is a long one, convoluted, often mixed up. The four Gospels and associated extra-biblical texts give very different versions of the whole ordeal. The story that has become so popular (census, trip to Bethlehem, birth in the stable, Wise Men showing up, gifts of priceless things, Herod, flight to Egypt, in that order) is almost completely fictionalized. Whether you believe in Yeshua as a human figure or a myth doesn't really matter. The story really doesn't bear much resemblance to what's in the Gospels. At best, it's a mashup of the assorted texts, jammed together to make a crazy quilt of a story that sounds good in children's books.

Just as your average Hellenic polytheist doesn't believe that Zeus literally slept with and bred with everything that moved, and that Hera was a total shrew all the time, the average Christian doesn't believe that Yeshua lived the story as told. It is a mythology that is steeped in history almost as old as the story itself. It's been manipulated and changed by kings and popes and printing press letter setters until it's become a comfortable old favorite.

For me, this is a time of incubation. The colder weather keeps me indoors more often, and I'm cleaning the house for (and from) the holidays. I'm preparing prayers and services for my various gods. I'm counting the days until winter solstice. I'm creating presents for my loved ones, cooking and baking and otherwise nestling happily in my home. I see it as a time of "pregnant pause," time to think about my life and what I've done in the past year, and what changes I'd like to make in the coming one.

What is this the advent of, for you? What begins for you when the snow falls? What starts when mid-winter draws near? Where were you last year at this time? Where have you come to? Where are you going? Are you happy? If not, why not? Find your inner peace, the peace of faith, regardless of your religion (or lack thereof). Embrace it, sit with it. Take the time to breathe. After all, sometimes all you can do is keep breathing...
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