“I’m very delighted to be with you in Advent. I look forward to hearing why it is ‘just the best ‘ for you :)” Lorie, my former spiritual director, now facilitator of a spiritual circle I often attend on Friday mornings, typed to me. 

As I read Lorie’s email response I thought Huh! Why do I love Advent?

Sunday Morning

This Sunday morning as I unload the dishwasher and listen to my eleven year old daughter, Rayna, fluently play a pretty tune on piano, I think I might have an inkling why I love Advent. I’ve just chopped “23” off the advent calendar countdown my eight year old daughter, Allison, made at school. She came to me giddy and hopping. “Here mom!” She beamed with a toothy grin all synapses inside her sparking with excitement, “Do you want to cut today’s off?”. 

This is Advent for a child: delight-filled, wonderful anticipation, magic and reality melding brilliantly. (While in my head a nagging voice reminds me that it’s December now and there’s only one present wrapped under the tree: SO MUCH TO DO!)

And today there is something else too. As the dishes clank and I admire the lit Christmas tree in our entryway, so inviting on this rainy grey morning, I think: I get Advent now. Because Advent is gritty hope and expectation against all odds. The labor pains of waiting for deliverance to be birthed.

Advent is like incurable brain cancer

Advent is like my experience two years after I was diagnosed with incurable brain cancer. I was in limbo, living in the no man’s land of surviving well beyond my one year prognosis.

I had just read Undaunted by Christine Caine where she shares a story of four Syrian leprous beggars, sitting outside the city during a famine. Because of their illness they’re not allowed through the gates. But as the story goes, the men begin discussing their condition. They are starving. They decide they have two choices. They can continue to starve and face certain death outside the gate. Or they can courageously risk their lives, unlawfully enter through the gates, and believe in the slim chance that the city will offer survival – even though they know that they’ll likely be killed. 

I love this story. It contrasts two choices. The first is to give up in the face of the seemingly impossible. The second choice is to claim agency, no matter how small that agency seems. 

Back in 2018 when I read this story, I resonated so deeply with the beggars at the gate. You might ask, Why did they even bother discussing whether to try entering the city, 1% chance of survival is better than none, right? I knew it was not that simple because I too was standing outside the gate. I was yet to begin believing for my longevity. 

“Is it okay to live like I’m cured?”

After reading this story, however, I hesitantly asked my counselor “is it okay to live like I’m cured?”. I sought his permission because a huge part of me, the rational, evidence-based medicine side of me, thought it was very, very foolish of me to believe for the “impossible”.  What would other people think? What if it didn’t work? What if I died anyways? So I sat outside that gate (of believing, of hoping for the best despite dismal odds) for longer than I’d like to admit. It was easier to sit in certainty – even the awful certainty of my prognosis – than it was to risk my pride and take active steps to believe in the impossible.  

My counsellor responded to my question, “Do you want to live like you’re dying, instead of cured?”

I did not. 

So I closed my eyes, hushed my hubris, and breached the gates of believing.

The Advent Road

Perhaps, I wonder now, is this how Mary, mother of Jesus, felt too, walking the Advent Road? Did her gut wrestle with disbelief? Did her chest tighten at the thought of it all, the weight of believing for this life? Did she feel fear in her bones? Were her feet weathered and weary from the journey?

Because, the thing with walking through the gate of believing for the impossible, aka walking the Advent road, is that it’s not a Santa Claus wish granted. It’s never a magical passing through. It’s a gritty road, in the words of Leonard Cohen, “it’s a cold and it’s a very broken Hallelujah”. It’s collaborating with your Life Force and working with full heart intention, believing for the best, pressing through the challenges of today, and preparing for the worst.     

This is what my Glioblastoma brain cancer community knows so well. 

This is Advent. 

Seat yourself beside your joy

And though it’s difficult. Impossible. And messy. Joy is accessible – always. Ancient poet, Rumi,  says “seat yourself beside your joy”. My joy is my children who remind me of unadulterated enchantment this Advent season: the simple daily delights of snipping one more day off the countdown to Christmas.

All of this – the messy merging with the magical is why I love Advent. (Thanks for asking Lorie!) And my hope, my wish, my prayer is that this advent, no matter how murky or messy it is – as you seat yourself beside your joy, may you too find the magic of this season.