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.
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