The Advent Journey of the Soul

9 years ago

Every year I write a personal faith/soul sum-up. So, what you are about to read is this Polish-American woman's Christian Advent faith journey. In this journey I always see myself wandering to Bethlehem. So, since it's almost the very end of Advent, I am trekking to the Bethlehem of my soul again this year. It is always a summing-up time, an annual reckoning. There have been big changes this year.

I bought a house. What a small amount of words for big leap of faith. I moved from NJ to Massachusetts. I have not lived in Massachusetts for 40 years. Yet, it has always felt like home, the place one returns to, the root-place, the cave where the lodestone is buried. Whenever I drive across the border into this state, I can feel myself relax.

What is it about "place" that gives us this feeling? Did the shepherds know to anticipate that feeling in Bethlehem? Did they sigh with relief when they sighted the manger? Was this place suddenly home for them? Did they feel what the Three Kings felt?

It's been a year with its share of bedraggled days in it. I was in the hospital in early February, just after my move. I had walking double pneumonia. This was a real setback emotionally. I so wanted to have energy and vigor when I moved -- instead I got put flat on my back. But all in all, it has been a comparatively smooth year, with a huge highpoint (the house).

There are years when I have dragged myself to Bethlehem, or limped there -- barely able to reach the nativity. Those were the years of powerful loss, deep grieving. In those years, the infant has greeted me quietly, and let me pour my sorrow into the hay surrounding Him until it drained from my heart.

There have been years where I felt like the shepherds, walking on faith and wonder alone to see the future that had been foretold, leaving behind all that was familiar for the sake of a dream shimmering just beyond the pathway of the known.

This year, I feel a great and wonderful ordinariness.

The big Christmas Eve event in my life is a Polish tradition called "Wielia" or "Wiegilia" -- it means "vigil". There are over 12 different dishes prepared, and I have thus far been cooking all day. On my stove is a lovely borscht. I've already finished the cabbage/sauerkraut/mushroom dish and the mashed potatoes. The fruit compote is made from a variety of dried fruits reconstituted in juice and cordials. Prepared and in the freezer are two kind of pirogi (rather like dumplings), and several varieties of fish waiting to be baked. The list goes on and on, but you get the idea.

I have attended Wielia every year of my life. For the past 10 or so years I have hosted it myself. It is a marker event in my year. The sound of Polish Christmas carols in the background set the serene tone for a warm sense of assembled family. Yet who is counted among "family" changes, due to moving and to the fact that people simply pass away.

I drove through the two cemeteries in which most of my relatives are buried yesterday and wished everyone well. I played Polish Christmas carols on my car's CD player and greeted the spirits of Christmas past. I said a little prayer of happy thanks at each grave. What to some may seem like a morbid thing to do felt oddly freeing, a ritual honoring my family with joy instead of sorrow.

Later in the day I spoke to my only surviving blood relative. She is 85 and was missing everyone tht had gone on before.

I understand, but when she asked how I felt, I told her "lucky". I feel lucky to have had such a fine family for so long, lucky to have her still alive -- oh, my family was not flawless, but they filled the bill more than just well. They were at least interesting! I have a haertload of fine stories and tales about them. I told my cousin that I felt "lucky" and also that I felt "blessed", and that I was not going to let any other feelings dominate my life this Christmas season. I told her that when we sat down at our annual Wielia table, in the company of dear friends, we would also be surrounded by the ghosts of our family, all happy to be there, all feeling just as lucky as we do.

She laughed at that, a good warm, wouldn't-it-be-swell kind of laugh. We started to talk about Wielias past, sweet things that we recalled. It turned into a gentle and endearing phone call. I was happy to hear her looking forward to tomorrow as she also looked back at the past.

So it seems, as I trek to my Bethlehem of the heart this year, that I have been spared the burden of my own grief. My step is lighter. I toss a ball to my pet dog as we walk with the crowds of pilgrims of the soul, following the promise of angels. I am excited about getting to the manger, eager to feel the presence of the arrival of the infant.

Some crowds seem a bit more buoyant than usual, each person helping another along, lifting some up, encouraging others. Our clothes may be a bit more worn than usual, and the gifts we bear may be a bit less phenomenal, but here we come, winding our way to what awaits us in the excellent company of each other.

I know that Christmas is not so comforting to many, and that others suffer. I pray for them as I walk, holding them in my heart as I journey. I lay their cares at the foot of the manger, imploring G-d for mercy .

Then the time comes for my own prayer. What will I tell Him this year? What message do I leave at the manger for myself? This year it is simple.

This year it is "Thank you."

Because thank-you's always raise the desire to give back, let none of us from any tradition forget the words of M. Ure and Bob Geldoff a few Christmases ago:

It's Christmastime; there's no need to be afraid
At Christmastime, we let in light and we banish shade
And in our world of plenty we can spread a smile of joy
Throw your arms around the world at Christmastime
But say a prayer to pray for the other ones
At Christmastime
Feed the world
Feed the world
Feed the world
Let them know it's Christmastime again
Feed the world
Let them know it's Christmastime again



Melissa is awaiting the birth of her own child in early January, so Advent takes on a new meaning:

The Nativity play last week made me cry: it was the carol-singing at the end that got me. The host of eager children in their homemade, hodge-podge costumes, the white-haired residents of the nursing homes, the beaming Carmelite sisters in their brown habits, many of the nuns with fat babies in their arms. Whenever our group visits this nursing home, the sisters are quick to reach for the babies among us. Next year I suppose it will be my little one tucked big-eyed into the brown curve of a sister’s arm, making a little O mouth while the nuns and the old folks and the children belt out their Gloooorias.


Emily, the Extraordinary Housewife blogs about Advent calendars.

Amy offers links to songs and videos of Christmas music, many pieces of more contemporary origin I had never heard.