December has begun, and many of us can already feel time quicken. The days spent travelling during the holidays approach, and we foresee hours spent buying gifts and baking cookies until our hands are cramped – but, “just one more!” right?
I have been reflecting on the Advent season more this year, the weeks leading up to Christmas, or Epiphany in some traditions. Perhaps for some there is no religious affiliation, but maybe a sense of “anticipation,” a sense of hope or longing for all things visible and invisible.
As you think of the weeks ahead, I invite you to take notice of how you feel in your body. Does your breathing change? Do you have tightness in your chest? Do your stress levels increase? Or, is there an openness and spaciousness within you? I find myself asking, “Am I going to be present this year?”
I have been taking notice myself and I wonder – how often do I actually feel that sense of anticipation anymore? Where is the wonder in it all? I don’t think it has truly left us, but I do think our pace of life has altered our ability to recognize it.
Growing up, the Christmas season was a magical one. It evoked a sense of wonder and curiosity in me as a child. From my belief in a big, jolly, generous old man dressed in red and white, to the Divine becoming human so that we could be met with true Presence. I was enchanted by it all. And this year, that longing for magic and wonder has resurfaced, and I’m left to cultivate it, if I so choose.
I think, as we get older, we are tempted to let the harsh realities of life dictate our sense of faith in wonderful things. Don’t get me wrong; there are certainly severe realities that cannot be ignored. But, when I reflect on that little girl from all those years ago and give her the space to be present in my life now, I am reminded of the courage she had. The courage she had to hope, and to marvel at the world in front of her.
More than ever, I am convinced we need contemplative space and a sense of presence within us to cultivate this wonder. Contemplation is a fancy word for “thoughtfully gazing.” It is a posture of being reflective, slowing down and gazing at what “is.” It is waiting at the bus stop without your phone out, and observing the trees, watching the snowfall, and smelling the crisp air. It is sitting with your morning coffee, and, well, just sitting. Feeling the warmth around your hands, and watching the steam dance up from your mug. It is becoming aware of your own presence in this world, aware of one another.
Amidst the hustle and frantic energy that can so often come with this season, isn’t there this deep longing within us, to just be? To enjoy the people closest to us, to experience the presence of something bigger than ourselves, to enjoy good food and drink and to truly be merry? I know I can feel it.
This is the invitation of the Advent season to us – presence. And I don’t mean the presents we wrap and place under our trees (though, those are in some ways extensions of what I mean). But I mean that real, earthy, flesh-like kind of presence. The kind you feel when you come home to your friends and family. When you come home to yourself. When you come home to the earth beneath your feet, and realize that all of this is a gift.
How can you cultivate contemplative space this season, so that you may genuinely be present to your life and relationships? Each day, wherever you find yourself, sitting or standing, take a moment, or two and just gaze. Gaze at your surroundings. Stare at the objects in front of you. Let yourself be bored. Let yourself be, however it is you are arriving this day.
This Advent season, may you awaken a little bit more to the wonder and Presence of all things.