I’m sitting by my kitchen fire this chill November evening after a long day of almost monkish domesticity. I’ve been so industrious today that this welcome pause is almost too much: the warmth of the fire and the weariness of my bones is conjuring a somnolent spell I can scarcely resist. But my heart is wide awake, enlarging with a quiet presence that I can’t gainsay. Tired as I am, I must find utterance for this shining thing within, howsoever imperfectly. It’s so persistent, so ingenuously obdurate, I fear if I tried to go to sleep now I’d simply lay there spinning words and weaving sentences, the threads of which have been darting around the corners of my mind all afternoon. I have to acknowledge this radiance that has settled to roost in my heart like a homing bird—because it’s my own joy, come back to me in a silent rush of unseen wings.
It’s been just the kind of day I love—just the kind of day to coax my joy out of hiding. I’ve been so intent on surviving mere circumstances recently that I’ve scarcely noticed the springs of my life were running dangerously low. It wasn’t until I felt that sudden uplift this afternoon at the sweet scent of decaying leaves, that giddy plunge of happiness borne on a gustering autumn wind, that I realized what had happened—and what was happening again, in the mercy of God. He has been kindling my weary soul the past few days with sword-flashes of light: a fireside evening with a sister-friend, swapping grace tales over a pot of tea; the laughing joy of watching a Nubian goatling bound and stot into the shocking freshness of a November morning; the stupendous simplicity of a nourishing soup and the tang a Winesap apple so laden with happy associations it almost summons tears. And brimming over all, the mounting, blooming wonder of Advent, approaching on tireless wings. So many of the year’s heartaches have dwindled to their proper proportions before that bright-gleaming Bird.
And this very fact is grace in itself, and the source of so much of my joy on this mid-November night. Much as I hate to admit it, three days ago I was paralyzingly overwhelmed with the thought of the holidays. This year has taken so much out of me that I felt I had nothing left to give, particularly in this season that I love best. I was so overwhelmed, in fact, that I sat down to have it out with God one morning with something akin to Jacob’s desperation in wrestling with the angel. Give me some guidance or I perish! I settled on the couch with my Bible and an enormous cup of tea, prepared to stay there as long as it took, despite the obnoxious insistence of my planner and a Monday to-do list that was more than I could possibly accomplish in a week. If I couldn’t find my lost place of peace, then all my best-laid-plans were worse than worthless, and I knew it.
And this is what God said:
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens.
Such simple words, but what enormous freedom they bore to me! I don’t have to “do it all”, and I don’t have to do it all at once. There are seasons for ambitions and for rest, for lavish acts of love and for homely gifts, for weaving words madly into story and prose and for sitting quiet and prayerful with pen poised over a Christmas menu. God has been reminding me keenly of late (life-changingly, I really believe) that He is not asking me to do things for Him, but to walk with Him. And I am coming to understand that so much of the intimacy of that journey depends on understanding the season I am in and how best to love God from that particular place. I read through the list of seasons which the chapter in Ecclesiastes tallies, and I found myself asking God to tell me the season I’m in.
It was scarcely out of my mouth when quick as a wink the words blazed on the page and burned in my heart: a time to embrace.
A time to kiss all the faces of my beloved ones. A time to pour into the lives of those I love. And a time, itself, to be embraced, for it will not come again. Though Advent invades our lives every year with its blessed presence, though the beloved bother of the holidays puts everything on hold that can be put on hold, this particular time will never come again. It was both sobering and exhilarating, a lightning charge of joy and energy that seemed to shock through me and shock all my joys awake. Nothing—and I mean nothing—has been the same since. A joyful anticipation has burgeoned and bloomed in my heart and every familiar, commonplace thing I see around me seems bathed in its light. I really feel like the Lord whispered to me the grace of the season and my spirit rose instinctively to greet it—because it is my place. It where I am to be for now, in the mercy of God, waiting and preparing beneath His sheltering wings. There is no other explanation for this return of joy and energy. And it’s real.
Today the music of Palestrina filled my home with soul-soothing accord, a whispered acknowledgement of things to come, a respectful nod to the swelling anthems of the holy season that is gathering its glory to visit us once more. Almost an advent of Advent, it seemed. The strains and harmonies and antiphonies bore my heart along with a joy that felt newborn as I polished silver and washed curtains and mulled over Christmas centerpieces while the fire hissed and crackled companionably on the hearth. And over all, stitching everything together into one fragrant, intentional whole, the aroma of apple butter brewing away, decanting a magic of all that is wholesome and homeloving and good. My home was filled with such a warmth of spices and woodsmoke it felt like an embrace.
So, the season is upon us.
And my arms are open wide.