As we transition into the advent season, I find myself full of gratitude and grief for the hidden things — the emotions, experiences, remembrances, and hopes that are invisibly working and growing inside myself.
I am grateful for the rhythms and rituals of the season. Many of my rituals are familiar across the country: a Thanksgiving meal with gathered friends, a trip outside the city to fuss over finding the perfect Christmas tree, crafting perfectly chosen (though less-than-perfectly made) gifts.
These weeks in anticipation of Christmas remind me of how embodied my life is, remind me that my most meaningful experiences are my most physical ones. The texture of a certain sweater; the scent of pine in the living room; the taste of white peppermint mochas in vibrant red cups. The concepts of the holiday season are hidden things — joy, charity, patience, faith. And these virtues only become invisibly manifest in my inner experience through their cultivation expressed in the tangible.
I forget that too quickly.
It’s been strung-together months of having forgotten to remember that my body needs to be inhabited in order for my heart to be warmed. Which underlies a lot of the grief I mentioned earlier; I have been in a season of depression. Depression is another hidden thing, an experience that is real and powerful despite being invisible.
It seems to me that, whereas the warming hidden things are cultivated by embodiment, my depression is cultivated by disembodiment. By overly-indwelling the intellect, by seeking an orienting goal for my vocational pursuits, by getting lost in explorations through possible futures.
I’ve been thinking a lot, this week, about Mary. I find it comforting that Mary must have also felt this tension between gratitude and grief. Even as she felt her fiancee withdraw from the promise of marriage, even as she wondered how she would provide for herself and her child if abandoned, even as she encountered the stigma of a pregnancy out of wedlock, even as her family (I imagine) shamed or shunned her — in the midst of these griefs, God was becoming flesh in her womb, God was becoming flesh from her own flesh.
My body follows the rituals and rhythms. My body is faithful to the actions I associate with advent, in hope that such faithfulness might cultivate some of the hidden virtues and lessen my hidden sorrow.
Though, if my past is any indication of my future, I will likely always have at least some measure of that sorrow with me. But if Mary felt this grief-gratitude tension as I do, then Mary is already with me, even as her womb works in the early stages of the process to bring God with us.