What and How Do We Wait?
The Advent is a season of waiting and preparation. The gathered and scattered (this year, mostly scattered, for the sake of safety!) church around the world remembers the time in history when the world was waiting in darkness for the Light of the World to come. While waiting, we anticipate and prepare our hearts for the coming of the Christ child.
In the time of pandemic, we have become acutely aware of the realities of the "not yet" and the "coming" of the Kingdom of God. We, and the rest of the creation around us, are aching for the fullness of God's Kingdom of justice and peace to come here on earth. We are waiting for the end of our suffering, loneliness, grief and limitations which this deadly virus have amplified to us all around the world.
In our waiting we repeatedly say, "When all of this is over..."
So then, what do we as God's people do while we wait for the end of the pandemic, and the restoration of jobs, homes, health, and the re-gathering of worshiping communities, the reunions with our families, and so much more?
I find comfort in the reminder that we are not alone in our waiting. In the genealogy of Jesus, found in Matthew, we read about four women who too were each waiting to be delivered from their own pain: Tamar was waiting for healing, Bathsheba was waiting for forgiveness, Ruth was waiting for home, and Rahab was waiting for justice.
I wonder, could one of the invitations of the Advent for us be the naming of the things we are waiting for, and write, paint, bake or speak them to God as we light a candle in the hope of the Light to come into our darkness. And perhaps we can welcome the ancient liturgical rhythms of the Advent to guide and accompany us in our waiting.
Embodiment of Advent
Mary was pregnant with the Christ child, Jesus. Most likely she did what an expecting mother does: she prepared for the arrival of her baby boy, and felt the pains and joys of the waiting in her body. Not only is Mary's waiting a reminder to me of the physicality of waiting, but so is the One whom we are waiting: the Immanuel, God-With-Us. The celebration of Christmas is a celebration of incarnation, or in other words embodiment of God himself! There is hardly a season in the liturgical calendar that draws me to embodied, whole-person prayer more than Advent does. And it is no different this year. My whole body is aching to experience, taste and touch the hope of the arrival of the coming Kingdom!
In this article, I share with you three art projects that I have felt drawn to use as pathways to prayer during the season of Advent.
Lastly, before we dive into the projects, I want to say a few words about the supplies I used.
A Little Note on the Choice of Materials
I like to challenge myself to craft and make art with zero waste and/or reusable materials as much as possible. For example, since I did not have purple and pink candles (which traditionally belong to an Advent wreath) I looked for other materials in those colors to create my Advent wreath with. This adds another fun, creative and earth honoring element to the spiritual practices. It also supports my intention of learning to live & work with limited resources, as I strive to leave as little footprint behind me as possible. When using recycled or found materials is not within my reach, I try to get hold of natural sustainable resources that can be used again (e.g. wood beads).
1. Advent Wreath
Wreaths are beautiful Advent decorations and rich in meaning and symbolism. Making your own wreath and perhaps adding to it over the four weeks of the Advent can be a meaningful prayer practice. I started building my wreath as a part of our Soul Care Online Retreat last Saturday and continued adding to it this week.
Here are some suggestions for engaging with a wreath as a prayer tool:
Consider the circular shape of the wreath that symbolizes the eternal nature of God, and its green color (typically evergreen or fir but sometimes holly or ivy are used) symbolizing hope in God. Where do you see green around you? Where in your life can you find hope?
Additionally, the wreath can be decorated with pine cones which points to life and resurrection. Holly with its sharp pointy thorns and crimson berries with bright red color remind us of Jesus' crown on the cross and the blood he shed. Silver or gold accents can be added to refer to anticipation of the celebration to come.
The four candles signify the four weeks of the Advent. The first candle, which is purple, symbolizes hope (also known as the “Prophecy Candle”, remembering the prophets who spoke of the coming of Christ). The second candle, which is also purple, represents faith ( or the “Bethlehem Candle”, referring to Mary and Joseph's journey to Bethlehem). The third candle is pink which is a liturgical color for joy, (or the “Shepard’s Candle”). The fourth and the final candle is again purple and symbolizes peace (“Angel’s Candle”, drawing our attention to the greeting of the angels: “Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men.”)
In some traditions a white candle is placed in the middle of the wreath and lit on Christmas Eve. This candle is called the “Christ Candle” and it represents the sinless, pure life of Christ.
As you engage with each of these elements and ponder their significance to you personally this year, perhaps you would like to create a personalized wreath that highlights any of the elements that feel especially important to you now. Trust your visual inclinations and what colors, materials, textures and shapes attract you. What might these intuitive "likings" speak about your needs and desires? Allow the art making be a process and way of praying with hands.
2. (Advent ) Bead & Clothespin String Calendar
I haven't had a 24-count Advent calendar for a long time. This year, however , I wanted to create one. Mostly because my days seem to slip by quickly, and I wanted to help myself to create a rhythm of slowing down and savoring each day of the Advent. I strung mini clothespins and beads into a cord and used bigger pins for each Advent Sunday. My intention is to pin encouraging verses, words, prayers, and images on the string each day, and perhaps include even little mundane reminders such as"take the trash out" and "smile". I have also invited my husband to read/leave a note on the string too. You could create a pile of notes, pictures and little activities etc. ahead of time and put them in a basket next to the string. Then pick out one and hang on the string each day. This (like all my suggestions here) are ideal whole family prayer practices. Invite the children to create little notes and take turns picking & pinning. :)
"The longer we wait the more we hear about him for whom we are waiting."
— Henri Nouwen
3. (Advent) Salt Dough Spiral
I have been reflecting on the significance of circles and moving in circular manner this Fall. The consistency and rhythm of cyclical movements (such as rising and setting of sun, change of seasons etc.) have offered me much comfort and hope. The faithfulness and generosity of others who move through life in ever widening circles, while welcoming others to join them, inspires me. These people include those who have gone before us, and those who will come after us.
In honor of the meditation of circles and their meaning to me, I wanted to create an Advent spiral. I didn't have clay at home and I didn't want to buy any, so I made it with salt dough (1 cups flour, 1/2 cup salt and 1/2 cup water, and I added a pinch of turmeric for a nice earthy color). Even the smell and texture of salt spoke to me and the "saltiness" of those who I am accompanied by on this journey of faith-filled waiting.
Again, this is a simple yet meaningful way to pray with children as well. You can taste the dough (if you dare!) and linger with the thought of what it means to stay "salty". You can form a circle or spiral and use peg dolls, tea lights or beads as tools to press holes into the dough (just remember to make the holes slightly bigger than the objects you wish to put in them after baking the spiral as the dough may expand a little in the oven). You can move a peg doll or light a candle on each day of the Advent around a tea time and share important feelings, experiences or prayers of the day with each other. These short moments of sharing with each other, or reflecting alone on those who have gone before us (such as the four women in Matthew, or dear deceased family members, or members of the community that we have been separated from due to the virus) offer meaningful opportunities for connection and renewed sense of purpose and togetherness in our waiting.
"...One of the reasons that Christmas celebrations appeal to children and adults is their sense of abundance. A truly unhappy Christmas is not one in which children receive no toys but one that is emotionally empty and the child is isolated. Such a Christmas expresses spiritual emptiness rather than abundance."
— Jerome Berryman, The Stories of God at Home
You can follow along my use of these handmade Advent prayers on Instagram and share yours by tagging me @kutsucompanions. I would love to journey with you through this Advent, even if from afar! I wish you and your family a connected and hope-filled Advent season!
Find more Advent and Christmas inspiration on my Pinterest board here.