One of my favorite memories of our first home in Minnesota was going out on a cold night (which we had no business going out into). It was probably near ten-below-zero, and had been for quite some time. But, out we went for moonlit cross-country skiing. If you time it just right, the brightness of the moon reflecting off of the snow casts shadows in the forest in the dead of night. It is an experience you will not soon forget. The night was a dark. I was introducing my husband and a dear friend to this north woods magic, and it was off to a bumpy start. Cold fingers clipped boots into skis and we shivered as we covered all but our eyes. And we set off.
Doubtful as they might have been in the parking lot, what I hoped we would experience was a startling beauty in the desolation. Peace, stillness, and light tucked into the silent forest.
Finding the Light
The woods were still and the air was clear. We had a beautiful view of the moon through the bare trees. It was too cold to snow. Imagine our surprise when we found a trail of lights laid out by some grizzled park ranger, or some nostalgic, seasoned skier who had gone before us. We never saw the person responsible—only the work of their hands. They had left luminaries in their wake along the length of the trail. Our entire trek through the snowy hills had been altered by these lights twinkling in the snow, on an otherwise barren landscape. It was a pure gift to the souls brave enough to endure the cold that night.
Isn’t that true of our Advent experiences, too? Our entire journey is altered by the Light we find shining in the dark—the very place we expected not to find it.
Our Advent Journey
This practice of Advent journeying takes on a variety of shapes:
- Maybe a candle and some prayer time are your jam before you get ready for bed.
- Perhaps you incorporate a Jesse tree into your Advent walk.
- Or the cozy, dark, early morning hours for Advent reflection call to you.
- If daily Mass fits into your workday, this is another way of noticing those small glimmers of hope in a season often filled with cold, muted light.
- If your parish participates in a cold weather shelter service, you might get to offer hospitality in honor of the Holy Family who found no room at the inn.
There is no “right” way to enter into the season of Advent. It remains an opportunity to be on the lookout for the shimmering light of Christ, like the Magi, even when it feels far-off. It is one of the few practices of waiting we afford ourselves at this point in time. Yet it can be cause for so much impatience when we look ahead to the celebration just around the corner. How do we contain ourselves?
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Seekers and Bringers of Light
At the same time, I wonder if that hypothetical, old park ranger I imagined lighting candles in the dark, with no guarantee that anyone would notice, might be on to something. Perhaps this Advent season that is upon us is more than an invitation to be seekers of the light only. Perhaps Advent is simultaneously an invitation to be bringers of the Light (John 8:12). To have the wisdom to lavishly share what we know to be illuminating, if only for the sake of delighting the Lord—and an unsuspecting passerby.
Because, if there is any one thing we know to be true of God, it is that God is Mystery and will use any and all circumstances to reveal the love He desires to lavish on us in a new way.
Unexpected luminaries on a rural ski trail? Check.
Physical presence in the Eucharist? Check.
Infant born in a barn? Check.
Our Prayer for Advent
Whatever your visions for this Advent season, let’s pray that each of us be given the opportunity to become not only seekers of the Light of the World, but bringers, too. Here’s to bringing that Light to the world in a new and delightful way.
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Just as in the deep woods or in a dark passageway, someone carrying a flashlight can light the path, so Christ walks before you, shedding His light upon your way. -Helen Kingsbury Wallace