Friday, December 13, 2013

The Spirituality of Advent, Day 6, Week 2

Today's entry is about preparation in a way that I had not been prepared for.  This goes to show that despite the best and most explicit plans (like writing at the start of the week what I had intended to write about for the whole week) sometimes there are spiritual connections made that come from places we never expect.

In some ways, today's entry will sound like it could be used as a motivation for the entire series or spirituality of Advent writings.  In other ways, what I will be writing about tonight will read like it could be a summary of the entire spiritual experience.  However, I have arrived at this point in the middle of this spiritual exploration of Advent.

Today was the annual Festival of Lights at the Waldorf School of Baltimore.  This is a festival each year that celebrates the many festival of lights that occur at this time of year.  This includes Advent, Hanukah, and Kwanzaa.  Each year a family gets to light the Advent wreath and the Hanukah candles.  This year, the small eighth grade class lit the candles for Kwanzaa.  This year, my family was chosen to light the Advent Wreath.

In the middle of the afternoon, my wife wrote me an email to remind me that I should have my "speech" ready as the spokesperson for the family.  I had thought about what I would say, but this was a clear reminder to me to be prepared for the evening.  Nice to fit into the theme of the week of the candle of preparation.

As the time for the start of the Festival of Lights, I wrote the following on the program for the event:
My Evolution
For this list, I was borrowing directly from

And here is a paraphrase of what I said:
Tonight, my family has been asked to light the Advent wreath.  If we look at the history of the Advent wreath, there is at least some evidence suggesting that it originated in pre-Christian times.  People lighting fires to bring back the light at the darkest time of year.  Then, Christianity adapted it with symbols of Christ rather than simply avoiding darkness.  
The evolution of the Advent wreath through history reminds me of the evolution of my own understanding.  The wreath here has candles that are all one color.  But sometimes they are two colors.  When I was Daniel and Joshua's ages [they were at the table with the wreath with me and Sherry] all I knew about the third candle which is a different color was that it meant that Advent was almost done.
When I was a little older than my oldest son Christopher, who is not here this evening, and I began to take my faith a little more seriously, I had the experience of the third week of Advent with the entire Catholic community where I attended college being brought together in a single mass to celebrate the joy of the week. 
As I got even more mature and took my faith even more seriously, I realized that there is a rhythm to the meaning of the candles.  There are many different interpretations to what the candles mean.  One that I find useful is the following:
The first candle is for Prophecy and Hope.  The hope for something new and something better as Christians wait for the celebration of the birth of their Savior.
The second is for Bethlehem and Preparation.  Preparation for the birth of the Savior in Bethlehem.
The third is the Shepherds and Joy.  A reminder that the joy was first shared with the shepherds--among the least of those who worshipped God [I felt like I was channeling Father Sam Lupico who loves to point out that most of Jesus's positive interactions with individuals other than his apostles was with those at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder at the time.]
The final candle is for the Angle and Love.  The angel who announced the birth of Jesus.
And whether Christian or non-Christian, the unifying and universal truths of Hope, Preparation, Joy, and Love are things that are worth all of us pondering.
Numerous people told me they liked what I shared.  The mother in the family that lit the Hanukah handles told me that my description of my own experience inspired her to talk about her family's experience.  The one thing that really made an impression on me was that she comments on a blessing that thanked God for the miracles of old and miracles of today.  And she invited all of us to think of a miracle in our lives right now.  I had not realized that I would inspire a second story about the universal nature of the positive values that come through the celebration of the various celebrations of light at this time of year.

Are beliefs interchangeable?  No.

Can everyone possibly be right?  No.

But everyone probably has some kernel of the truth.  And everyone can benefit from the interconnectedness.

The key for me is that spirituality is separate from religion.  Spirituality is driven by the sense of interconnectedness.  Spirituality is driven by the sense that I am a part of something much bigger.  Some call the higher power God.  Some just refer to it as a higher power.  I'm not one to worry about what each person around me calls it.  But I am a person who believes that the interconnectedness that I feel is something special.  A blessing.  A challenge.  And something that helps me to move forward in the most productive manner.      

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