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Seasonal Struggles and Advent Practices

Updated: Jan 19, 2023

This time of year is full of exuberance. Radio stations, stores, and shopping centers shift to festive music programing. Decorations fill our homes and line our streets. We are filled with holiday cheer, except when we're not.

Not everyone feels comfort and joy at the sound of carols or the sight of twinkling trees wrapped in lights. Even the happiest of souls may be blindsided by a wave of grief when a memory is stirred by the merriment we often find ourselves in the midst of. For so many reasons, this season can be particularly difficult. All the things brining us joy can also bring us stress and sorrow.

Of course, it doesn't have to be something relating to this season to strike that nerve and put us in our feelings. On my way home the other night I was noticing the pretty lights and scanning through the radio channels offered to us through the trail of XM Radio that came with our "new" car. I stopped scanning at the sound of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, an old favorite of mine that I don't listen to much anymore. The song was not one of my favorites, but I was enjoying the sing-along.

Not my favorite, but it still gives me feelings. Crosby, Stills, and Nash (with or without Young) was a staple in our home. We all enjoyed the music. There was something about this song talking to both generations that I think helped endear us to it and to the group. It wasn't always the happiest of homes, and as a kid I interpreted the "father's hell" as referring to my dad's anger. My mom did the bulk of feeding us dreams. I was mildly reflecting on these things through the bridge and into the next verse.

"And you of tender years,

Can't know the fears,

That your elders grew by,

And so please help,

Them with your youth, They seek the truth,

Before they can die."

And suddenly I couldn't sing anymore. My eyes welled with tears which soon fell down my cheeks. The calm waves of emotion I was floating on had crested a bit higher. On the lake, sometimes I like to ride the big waves and let them take me into shore. But I wasn't looking to swim with this wave, so I let it pass on by.

I can't imagine that's the last time I'll get an unexpected splash of emotion this season. We all live with feelings of grief, but they often float closer to the surface this time of year. Tending to our own mental health and being conscientious towards others can helps us all as we get through the coming weeks.

November 27th marked the start of a new church year and the first Sunday in the season of Advent. I have always been fond of this season. In recent years, I think part of my sentiment towards it comes from the benefit of our Advent practices on my mental health. They provide focus, a framework that helps to harness the energy and emotions, process, and release. They can help keep us centered and grounded, so that we're better able to navigate when the emotional waters get rough.

This year, for Advent, I took a slightly different approach to the typical devotions we might do with our Advent wreaths. The weeks of Advent are often given the themes of peace, hope, love, and joy (the order of these may vary). Reading through the worship planning book, Sundays and Seasons, I found a different set of themes jumping out at me. Thinking about them now, I do see parallels to the more traditional set.

Each week, we will have a prompt of Service, Care for Self, Create, Give, Time with Others, Advocate, and Prayer, relating to the theme. For example, the Slow Down suggestion for Time with Others is a family or friends game night. In week three, as we focus on Wonder, our Advocate prompt relates to the wonder of God's creation. I hope that you'll spend some time with these materials, whether or not you feel they are needed in a therapeutic manner.

Again, recognizing that cheer is not universal in this season of merrymaking, Pastor Mark will be leading us in a Christmas Peace service the evening of Saturday, December 17th. The idea behind it is very much in keeping with the Blue Christmas service we have done in years past. It will feature music, readings, reflections, and refreshments after. We are invited to slow down, rest into the experience, and find the peace of the season.

We can't always predict when our storms will come, and our gentle float turns fraught. Remember that we are all fundamentally sacred, and we should treat each other, and ourselves, as such. Let us be gentle to ourselves and one another this season as we slow down, reflect, wonder, and rejoice, so that we might spread some peace, love, hope, and joy.

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