Singing About The Dark Times: A writer’s Advent journal

During Advent a few years ago, I composed meditations each morning on the day’s scriptural readings as I experienced the season. This Advent journal was my experiment, my practice as a writer and a seeker, to anchor myself before each day pulled me in all its directions. I began with Scripture, with my bodily attention to my immediate surroundings and with words as they emerged. The following are thoughts adapted from that journal.

Day One

Open my lips
With your lips,
My lashes
With your lashes,
Unleash
My tongue
With your
Invitation,
Your inhalation
Before my song.

This is my invocation. Steady, slow rain, punctuated by wind. Semicolons of calm.

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The thirst to swim only partially quenched by weather, we went to the pool. The building was sauna-hot, the water inviting.

My wife Amy and I took our girls—Adele, age 9, and Leila, age 5—to the pool. We splashed around the diving well, bobbing above the ear-aching depths, our voices clattery and large against the drum of the water.

It’s the end of Thanksgiving, the beginning of Advent. We’re about to dive into the hide-dark and ice of winter.

“Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come” (Mk 13).

How else to keep awake, to keep an abiding heat inside, Isaiah’s coal in the bone-cold season, but to move one’s body, to pull one’s limbs through the surfaces?

Day Four

Our girls, awake now, bound down the stairs, with the words that they see snow outside.

Their words bringing me the world.

St. Paul: “how beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news.” (Rom 10).

And: “their voices have gone forth to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.”

When Gregory the Great writes, “let us despise what is earthly,” when he writes, “let us leave behind what is temporal and purchase the eternal,” I reach for Blake: “Eternity is in love with the productions of time.”

We are the productions of time. The rain has thickened, bloomed into flake.

Day Eight

This is the day before the day, the waking before light.

Outside, the wind winds around everything, as if it were a huge exhalation, more constant than the cars accelerating on the dark street outside.

The wind, like a messenger, preface to a book being written about winter, about enduring the dark.

How to hear a voice without a mouth?

Isaiah:

A voice cries out:
In the desert prepare the way of the Lord!
Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God.

While the girls slept fitfully in the dark of their shared bedroom, we spent a couple of painstaking hours last night choosing photos from the past year to send to grandparents.

I grew impatient. In the digital age, photographs proliferate like overprinted currency—each one less precious because of the abundance.

So often, we are restless for conclusion, holding our breaths until the end.

The forced-air heat clicks on, mimicking the wind outside.

Lest we feel the cold that awaits us.

Day Twelve

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception

The clouds, pregnant with rain.

Yesterday, it was, as Wallace Stevens wrote: “evening all afternoon.”

No light, but the hint of light, an inkling of light.

If Advent is a time of waiting, of joyful anticipation.

If we need to be reminded to not be afraid.

And we are often troubled at the news, “greatly troubled at what was said.”

We all are living with Mary, the rising globe of her belly, the future it holds.

How terribly frightened Mary must have been, even to be told she was “full of grace.”

Day Fifteen

Gaudete Sunday

The Gospel of John: “He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.”

When I was a young boy, I became afraid of going blind. I couldn’t stand to be in a totally dark room, for fear that I’d already gone blind.

To this day, if I wake in a perfectly dark room, I fling myself up and swing my face from side to side, for any glimpse of a shade of light in the general dark.

We are full of darkness, each and all. Brecht: “In the dark times/ Will there also be singing?/ Yes, there will be singing/ About the dark times.”

Day Twenty-three

Open my lips.

Yesterday, in Mass, I watched a baby press his soft fingers against his mother’s lips, then place his entire hand into his mother’s mouth, as if probing for her voice. I think of how our girls once fussed endlessly with my wife’s mouth. Now Leila says, “I can’t hug you hard enough.”

Can a mother forget her infant,
be without tenderness for the child of her womb?
Even should she forget,
I will never forget you.
See, upon the palms of my hand I have engraved you;
your walls are ever before me.
(Isaiah 49)

In other translations, the verb is that we are “written” or “inscribed” on God’s hands. “Engraving” feels more physical, more permanent. O to be graven or engraved, to be sculpted and published.

Day Twenty-five

Every morning it takes a bit more work to unwind my limbs from my beloved’s—as if, overnight, we’ve grown further together, our roots tangling.

We’d stay tangled ever longer at the expense of soreness, of staying in one position too long—the softness of the breast, the hardness of the hip, the sweet aroma of the head of hair.

Is what we know of God grounded in metaphors of what we love on earth, or is what we love on earth metaphors for God?

Day Twenty-eight

Christmas Eve

I sing of time, of time and its lordship.

The day before the day.

When I was young, on Christmas mornings, presents revealed, I always felt that something was missing. Sometimes this feeling was focused on a particular failure, when a gift did not work as advertised. I remember crying over the latest video game console, ColecoVision, which wasn’t working, no matter how I tried.

As if Christmas were about ColecoVision.

In Psalm 79, “forever,” “through all generations,” favor, forever, forever.

We want things to last—our houses and thrones, our bodies and favors, kindness and our names.

Yet does even David’s throne last forever?

We are given this small span.

What are we to do? In John 4:7-11, two words recur.

Love and God.

God and Love.

I’d forgotten the camera at home, but decided it was more important to hear Adele sing with the choir than to go back to the house for the camera.

Day Twenty-nine

Christmas

This year, Adele’s desired item was a donation to be made in her name to the National Wildlife Federation.

Leila wanted all of us to have wings. Real wings.

Adele gave me two fingernail-sized presents, and assured me that I would use it “at least twice a day.” I laughed, but I was skeptical. Until I opened two guitar picks.

Leila gave me a colored paper baseball. When I opened it, I could see in her face that great desire to have one’s gifts welcomed. I welcomed it.

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