Download this year’s Alternative Advent Calendar here ↑! Print it out on pretty paper, stick it on your fridge. Make the prompts your daily spiritual practice, or do 4 in one day and be forgetful for a week. Share with a friend who needs slowing down, and solace.
Before you can see it, you can hear it.
It begins as a single chirp.
It’s called the Dawn Chorus, the hour before sunrise when one bird, then two, then dozens break into song, warbling the world awake, singing the sun to its appointed duty. It’s a symphony that signals us, the audience: whatever you are going through, however bleak, however broken your situation seems, however stuck you may feel in a dark loop that never ends, stumbling and lost, a new morning will dawn eventually.
And there is a herald for that dawn. All we have to do is listen for that first chirp. That chirp sings, delightedly “I know something you don’t know. Listen first. Then, in a bit, look for the light.”
For some of us, the night has been all too long and the songbirds flown far south for winter. We might be living through a Game of Thrones kind of winter–the eternal threat that “winter is coming” but never seems to actually arrive. Let’s get it over with already! Or it might be, as in Narnia, always winter and never Christmas, always the cold dim waiting of Advent and never the birth of Jesus, bursting onto the scene with warmth and light, the cosmic saving, God coming home to humans.
Some of us have been living in a dark night of the soul for so long: mental health struggles, complex grief, anxiety about our country and our loved ones, fear that we have broken the Earth beyond repair.
Others of us keep the lights on all the time and never truly experience darkness, which means we don’t rest deeply, sleep during which our bodies repair cellsb and grow, and our brains convert memory. Metaphorically speaking, we won’t permit ourselves to experience night, the shadows, and our own shadow side completely. But that also means we won’t get to experience the gifts of night, and the mystical splendor when dawn follows, as it always will eventually.
Salt Project, from whom I first learned about the Dawn Chorus in their wonderful Advent devotional, says:
“Advent is the church’s dawn chorus. It starts in the silence, in the shadows, and looks to the light. Each week, we gather together to listen and sing (sometimes quietly at first) straight into the deepening darkness, proclaiming that in the end, the night will give way to the day; winter will give way to spring; despair to hope, war to peace, grief to joy, violence to love – and God will come again, like the morning star in the east, or a mother hen gathering in her brood.”
From dusk to dawn and into clear cold sunshine, God is with us. God is often more able to draw near to us in the night, when the world is quiet and our minds less busy and defended. I’ve been more insomniac than usual this season: awake at 2am in one ER with my father (multiple strokes), at 3am in another ER with my daughter (appendicitis)--and sometimes just awake with my mind manufacturing the emergencies.
In those moments, I try to give my neural pathways an offramp: “Hey God. I’m listening. What do you want to tell me?”
Join me in the close listening this Advent and Christmas, as you lie awake in the dark and journey through the day. The simple prompts in this year’s calendar will help you hear what you’ve been missing–and raise your own birdy voice in song.
Stop scanning the horizon until your eyes hurt, hoping to catch a glimpse of your heart’s desire. Tune in to another sense, that will tell you what you need to hear even before the light returns.
It’s Election Eve and I’m about to get on a plane and fly from Boston back to San Francisco after an epic weekend of book launching. I’m usually a news junkie, especially during the election returns when I love nothing better than to steep myself in liberal jubilation or distress, but this time is different. I’m going to read Middlemarch and maybe watch a bad romcom and eat chocolate instead of driving myself crazy holding out hope and rehearsing despair.
The truth is, we may not know which way our corner of the world is tipping for days, weeks…or a decade. Whoever “wins” (I put that in air quotes because we know how the Republican party has gerrymandered, lied, cheated, propagandaed, sued and especially this season: bought elections) in the midterms, we will have to keep fighting for our democracy, loving our enemies and standing with/speaking up for our most vulnerable friends and family.
In the meantime, in my own little world, life is pretty sweet! I just did 4 events in 3 days, had a little time with my dad who seems to be doing better and better after surviving 5 strokes this summer, and am now heading home to gear up for the big West Coast Book Launch/Disco Party this Sunday at 5pm PT!
The crowd at Brookline Booksmith was amazing! All but 3 of them were people I personally knew and *that’s ok.* Some were folks I hadn’t seen in 20 or 30 years! And they came from all the parts of my life, hugged me hard, and bought the book. It meant the world! There's something about seeing people who have known you since your callow youth, and looking in your eyes, and affirming you that is like a fairy tale key going into the lock of a rusted-shut cabin or castle, and turning with a satisfying clink, opening to treasures long unseen.
Co-author and interviewer extraordinaire Ellen and I then hit the road and went to see church camp friends at their house in the woods overnight, then I preached and we gave a parenting talk about Bless This Mess–about how it’s a basic human need to feel like we have mastery over our worlds, and that need for control can make us controlling…even fascistic, and regress us to the morally infantile position of turning the world into good guys and bad guys. Sound like something makes sense in other arenas of our life than parenting?
Ok, time to shlep from South Station to Logan, so I’ll leave you with some links and some calls to action:
Come to the BOOK LAUNCH this Sunday! You won’t regret it. You can RSVP here. If you’re not in the Bay Area, it will livestream. Click here at 5pm PT.
Amazon is shipping the book early! You can have it in your hot little hands by this weekend.
As a reminder, BOOK REVIEWS REALLY HELP authors who aren’t already famous, like me. Please review the book at Goodreads and Amazon (even if you didn’t buy it from Amazon. Sometimes you have to try more than once), and then post your review on your favorite social media or email it to a few friends who you think might enjoy the book too.
There are two more spiritual snack mini-concert/book readings coming up, including one with progressive Christian pastor/rapper J.Kwest tomorrow. You can watch them (and see the ones that already happened) on my FB.
Favorite thing this week: this conversation between Anderson Cooper and Stephen Colbert made me laugh and cry. We really don’t know how to grieve in our society. These two will help. Promise.
Alternative Advent Calendar: if you love and look forward to the advent calendar I make every year, get ready! It’s coming late next week, via this newsletter. Now is a good time for friends to sign up if they need a good grounding ritual to keep them from flying off into the outer darkness where there is much weeping and gnashing of teeth in these sometimes terrifying times.
Finally, go and vote! If this adorable guy named George Phinney who is 79 and just had a whole bunch of strokes can go in person to vote, what’s your excuse?
Friends, Family, Colleagues & Readers I just haven’t met yet.