A Catholic Monthly Magazine

ADVENT – a sacred space

By Liz Pearce

by Liz Pearce

A way to create one

Somewhere, over the years, I lost a sense of Advent. It had become a whirlwind of end-of-year concerts and parties; a cacophony of hackneyed music; a relentless barrage of advertising. Consumerism and Busy-ness were the gods of choice. Even churches where I sought refuge were furnished with twinkling lights and Christmas trees and fully-inhabited Christmas cribs.

I knew there had to be something more. There had to be some reason why this is the first season of the Church’s year. There had to be somewhere, some way, I could encounter the divine.

In his ‘Letter to a Young Poet’, Rainer Maria Rilke says, “go deep into yourself and see how deep the place is from which your life flows”. So I set out to experience the depths of Advent. I chose to set aside a small, sacred space: an altar. On this, I would place random objects to see how they could “become my teachers, revealing secrets about the outside world or about the inner life that would remain hidden without them.”(Thomas More)

I placed a simple, hand-made pinch pot into the space. With reflection, I saw that Advent is a vessel. A vessel into which story is put, contained or preserved. It is a vessel from which enlightenment, reconciliation, and life is poured. Advent is a vessel that contains promise, hope, and expectation.

I placed a shell next to the clay pot. Now I saw that Advent is about pilgrimage. It is about setting aside my usual life and embracing my call as one of God’s pilgrim people. It is about following a well trodden path but using my own unique gifts to interpret the journey. It is about putting one foot in front of another in the sure knowledge that I am not alone.

I placed an ecumenical prayer leaflet in my sacred space. I could see that Advent is experienced, felt, even intuited, through ritualised action. Advent is realised (made real) through the senses. This season is experienced through sound, light, movement, time, focii and liturgy. Advent is a seamless choreography, inviting me to the dance; an opus, inviting my spirit to soar; a masterpiece, inviting me to immerse myself in the story; a ritual, inviting me to tend my soul.

I found a smooth stone, etched with an (American Indian) Hopi labyrinth: the Ta’pu’at (Mother and Child). This Hopi labyrinth has two circuits, one within the other. I think of the twin journeys of Advent: remembering the birth of Jesus and the second coming of  God. They are symbiotic: each dependent on the other to reveal the wholeness of God, the holiness of God. And I think of all the strands in my life that lead to encounter with the divine.

I come across an old woollen nappy and drape it in my sacred space. In traditional Hopi areas, an orphaned child is placed under a blanket and passed to its new family. And I reflect  that we are all related: we are all adopted children of God, sisters and brothers of Jesus, under the protective veil of divine love.  Advent is a time to reconsider and renew my relationship with God and with my siblings in Christ.

I read on the net about the ‘O Antiphons’ and print off a copy to place on my altar. Perhaps Advent is a time to consider the names of God. And to consider how little I know of the divine and how, simultaneously, God knows so much about me. It is a love affair, renewed during Advent.

It is near the end of this Advent journey. I make a doll from a deep blue woollen fabric. She is kneeling on a cushion, draped in an organza veil. Her hands rest under her very pregnant belly. And I see that Advent is about the present moment; about all that has gone before and all that is to come, focussed into this moment: in the divine being revealed in human form. It is a time to sit; to contemplate. It is a time to feel the stirrings of the spirit.

I have disassembled my advent space now. It’s time is past. For now there is an ‘Advent’ space within. I need only close my eyes and I am there.

O  Wisdom, you came forth from the  Most High,
filling all creation and reigning to the ends of the earth;
You came and taught me the way of truth.
Amen. Come Lord Jesus.  

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