I am not a big fan of Christmas. I confess I do not like Santa Claus or fruitcake. I loathe Jingle Bells and the rampant commercialism of a season that in our secular world seems dedicated to running up credit card bills buying things we don't need and may not even want. I have fantasized about going somewhere far off in the east, like a small village in Bali or Thailand, where I could experience the real meaning of Christmas by finding beauty and holiness in the humblest of places. But Advent is a season I love. The four weeks leading up to my least favorite holiday are something profoundly deep and true and meaningful for me. It is a season about waiting, longing and mystery- and surrendering to finding God where you least expect it.
Advent is the time when the Christian liturgical calendar starts anew, and each year I take it as an invitation to enlarge my own capacity for beholding beauty- which is what Dante tells us Heaven is all about. The themes for the church readings for the season are as follows- and good advice for contemplation, no matter what your religious orientation:
Don't fall asleep to your life!
Straighten your path!
Wait, watch and listen!
And ponder the mystery in your heart.
In the days to come, I will be sharing some of my favorite poems, pieces of art and works of music that speak to the eternal themes of Advent . It is "a mete and right thing so to do" to begin with TS Eliot. This is from The Four Quartets, the poem that saved my life as a teenager:
I said to my soul, be still
And wait without hope,
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing.
And wait without love,
For love would be love for the wrong thing.
There is yet faith,
But the faith and the hope and the love are all in the waiting.
And wait without thought,
For you are not ready for thought.
So the darkness shall be the light
And the stillness, the dancing.
"There are two ways to live life.
One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other way is as if everything is"
Where I sit perched writing this letter, the light rain has added a brilliant sheen to the cornucopia of colors dancing in my garden. The Japanese maple tree is gently releasing its crimson coat while waves of green and gold shimmer on Mount Tamalpais. As I drink my morning tea, a hummingbird hovers over a scarlet vine, and a duet is created between the murmur of the water fountain and the exultation of birds. It is all miraculous, and I realize more and more how important it is to take the time to notice and to savor these moments of quiet splendor that surround us every day, as the paintings of Pierre-Yves Russo show. He reveals that if we have the eyes to see, a glass of milk and a couple of peaches can truly become a sacrament (you can see more of his exquisite work at http://www.pierreyvesrusso.com/en/)
One of the most meaningful experiences of my life was a gratitude walk at Chartres Cathedral. With each step on the stone path, I internally said a "thank you" for a person or place that had graced my life. It is a long path, and after the initial obvious "thank yous" for the friends and family in my intimate circle, a part of my mind wondered if I'd have enough people to get to the center. What amazed me is how many faces arose as I continued walking the path, including people whose names I have long forgotten: the neighbor who baked my family cookies when we first moved next door, the kind crossing guard who helped me as a second-grader, the stranger who stopped to help me change a flat tire when I was eighteen, the wise woman who patiently taught me the ropes as a waitress in French restaurant, my first piano teacher who always smelled of violets and gave me a love for playing duets. I realized that there is so much more to be grateful for then I usually see. By the time I reached the center, I had tears coursing down my cheeks- but I had not run out of names or faces.
In the last book of The Divine Comedy, Dante discovers that souls are grouped in different circles of Paradise not because of how "good" they have been, but because each circle of heaven is more beautiful: each soul is in their exact place because it is as much beauty as they can bear. Dante himself has to grow as he ascends in Paradise order to take in the increasing splendor, and he invites us to consider the question: how much beauty can we bear? Remembering the experience of my Gratitude Walk in Chartres and how it opened and expanded my heart, I'd like you to consider creating a new tradition this holiday. Instead of joining the throng at the mall for Black Friday, I invite you to celebrate the truly miraculous gifts that you already have. Find a place of beauty (my favorites are Point Reyes National Park and Muir Woods), and take a walk in silence. With each step, savor the beauty of what you see before you and call to mind in your inner eye all the beauty you have every known in your life- the people, the places, the music, the art, the stories, the poems and the experiences that have nurtured your spirit and given you a sense of joy. You may be astonished at the sense of abundance you feel.
I am so grateful for the harvest of this past season- for my wonderful new partnership with the Petaluma Historical Museum with its magnificent grand piano, where Mythica's first salon, Symbols of Tranformation: Mozart and Depth Psychology, drew over one hundred enthusiastic listener. I am filled with great joy as Mythica welcomes Julija Zibrat into our team to guide the launch of our online classes so that we can bring our upcoming courses on Beethoven and the Hero's Journey, Jung and the Red Book and Dante Through Art and Music to our friends across the world. And I am filled with a sense of gratitude every Evensong for the sense of growing community as new friends are created in these candlelit gatherings of classical music, poetry and contemplation now offered in both Sonoma County and San Francisco. And I remain deeply grateful for the people who have graced my life- for each of you, whether I know your names or not, for the teachers who have guided me on my path and for the beauty that surrounds us always- if only we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear.
May you have a blessed Thanksgiving,