Sunday, December 3, 2023


 I grew up in a religious tradition that didn't teach about or acknowledge Advent.  The only religious seasons we observed weren't seasons at all, but just...just two holidays: Christmas and Easter.  

I did not remain in the tradition I grew up in--in point of fact, I see it as only very little better than Islam, in a lot of ways, mostly because of how that church treated abuse inside of a marriage, and abuse of children.  My dad was a minister, and led the church we went to...and committed adultery with a lot of his flock that went to him for marriage counseling...bullied and threatened my mother...and beat (not spanked--closed hands, kicks, shakes, and physically throwing at walls) both me and my little sister...and worse.  And the church castigated my mother for leaving, and attempted to pressure my sister and me into silence.  So, yes, I abandoned that church with a quickness, as soon as I could. 

I never abandoned my faith in God, just...had (and still have) very little faith in His churches.  And none at all in my fellow Christians.  

So I mostly quit going to church.  Between bad early experiences, and ongoing issues with panic attacks triggered by some churches (back-brain knowing there was something wrong, even if front-brain didn't really know the place well enough to recognize it, I think...or a gut feeling and whiff of sulphur telling me that something wasn't on the up-and-up), I didn't want to go, nor did I see a reason to.  

Until I decided it was time to have kids, and realized I had some real hang-ups where talking religion and faith are concerned.  And I realized that the best way to get around that was to find a church.  I had help, there.  I'm pretty sure God led me to the Episcopal church back in '07 or so...and, at that point in time, it hadn't gone full woke.  The pastor was all-in Catholic Lite (same religion, half the guilt), and had been raised Catholic before he felt two callings: one, to be a husband and father; and two, toward the pulpit.  

And, yeah, it was different.  Really different.  There was ritual.  There were kneelers in the pews, and there were points in the service where we were called on to kneel for prayer.  And then stand for hymns.  The order of the service didn't vary, and included a recitation of the Apostle's Creed, Communion with every service, a psalm sung, a responsive reading, the Lord's Prayer, scripture reading, and the sermon based on the scripture reading.  And then...then I was introduced to liturgical seasons.

That was...that was really different.  Advent, then Christmas season, then  It felt huge, big enough that I couldn't wrap my head around it.  (By contrast, the burning of the greens and the BYOB party with it was...something that was culture shock, but not so much that I couldn't react to it).  

I didn't understand Advent.  I mean...really.  It's just part of Christmas, right?  

Actually, no.  But it took me a while to really get that.  

It took becoming a mother.

It isn't celebrating the birth of Christ; it's celebrating the last month of pregnancy.  It's that breathless pause (because there's no room to breathe), the quiet (or not so quiet) anticipation of the birth of the babyIt's the last bit of grueling discomfort and hard work of getting the baby ready for the world, right before the blood and pain of pushing the baby into the world.  

It's a time to think of His mother, in her last few weeks as she traveled with Joseph her husband to his family's ancestral lands, from Nazareth where he lived and worked to Bethlehem, where his ancestors were from.  On donkey-back.  

I didn't have that last month for either of my kids.  They were both early--unexpected in their timing.  But I have deep sympathy for Mary, and Advent means something to me now that it didn't when I started attending the Episcopal church, and started learning about the liturgical seasons.  Because that last month I was pregnant with each of my kids?  I was bent backwards because I couldn't sit up straight--not and breathe.  Not and eat.  There was more baby in my torso than there was anything else.  How in the world did Mary carry Christ that last month, while traveling as she had to?  How did she put her sandals on?  How did she deal with it?  

And I wonder, did she think about the baby she was carrying like I thought of my two?  Did she want to hold Him, stare at Him, count His fingers and toes, pet His hair?  Did she worry about being the mother He deserved, like I did with my children?  Did she wish the idiots in charge had just let her stay home and prepare for His birth in peace?  Was she just ready to be done with the pregnancy, like I was (even early like my two were) because of the discomfort?     

 So many people think about Christ, and anticipate His coming, His birth during this time of year.  I get that; however, after I had my own babies, I found myself wondering about Mary's last month of pregnancy, and feeling that anticipation with her. 

In a lot of ways, I hate Christmas.  I hate the mess, I hate the stress, the fighting, the break in routines that mean behavioral difficulties follow.  

But Advent?  Advent has brought an introspection into it that I didn't realize I needed.  And, in some ways, it's brought back some of the joy in Him, if not in the celebration of Christmas. 

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