Bless All Seasons
Today, a rainy Sunday at the end of November, marks the beginning of Advent. I’ve had my turkey and counted my gratitude with my parents and brother, celebrating Thanksgiving with family for the first time in many, many moons. The end of November has actually found me in 4 different countries over the last 5 years: South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, and now here in America. For years I’ve been shaped by the experience of being welcomed in lands where I am a foreigner and stranger, and this year I’ve appreciated a new sort of gift of being at home with those who’ve known me my whole life.
I always think it’s suitable that Thanksgiving ushers us into Advent. Even though advertisements have been pushing it for weeks, now is the time begin pulling out candles and cookie recipes, stars and stories; our gentle preparations for the coming of Christmas.
Are you at all surprised that one rhythm I love at Advent is reading essays and reflections that help me reconnect to the larger redemptive story? Being back in the States has allowed me unexpected access to a little company called Amazon, who will send, to your door in 2 days with free shipping, any new or lightly used book. I also watch You’ve Got Mail at Christmas, and I believe there is nothing quite like buying books in the coziness of a local bookstore. But, as someone who has lived in places with little access to non-digital books, please allow me to relish, for a moment, the gift of easy access to literal literary pages.
This year, I chose to order The Irrational Season by Madeline L’Engle, which is a collection of essays structured around the church calendar, beginning and ending with Advent. Its title is also a line from one of her most famous (or perhaps just one of my favorite?) Christmas poems.
One small secret is that I love reading old books that have been loved by other people, noticing what was underlined and dogeared, paying attention to what words might have meant something to a previous reader. When I got my $6 copy of The Irrational Season, I quickly flipped through it, noticing what had been highlighted. And then, I started back at the beginning, and realized that the book had been signed by Madeline L’Engle herself!! On the front page she had written, “for Sarah, bless all seasons. Madeline L’Engle.”
I have no idea who Sarah is, but for a moment, I took Ms. L’Engle’s words, carried through time and by the hands of the US postal service, to be for me, too. Because her three small words are so perfect, and wise, and more challenging than they initially seem.
It can be hard to bless all seasons. Isn’t it tempting to look back on the past with a strange mix of guilt and nostalgia, and to gaze towards the future with anticipation mixed with anxiety, all the while missing the gift of what is right here and now? I find this can especially true at Christmas when there is a certain sort of pressure to be happy, and accumulate, and to evaluate where we’ve come and where we’re going. But what would it mean for me, for us, to bless all seasons? To see with gratitude the gift in the full years and the lean years, the times of foreignness and the times of homecoming, the times of too many social obligations and the times of loneliness, the times of joy and sadness, and the times where all of the feelings are all mixed together?
Bless means “to confer or invoke divine favor upon.” And we, because of the story of a baby and a cross and rolled away stone, can see our lives through the lens of this favor, can trust God’s kindness in the midst of mystery.
Perhaps too, L’Engle’s words were a type of prayer, a request for the Blesser to bless all seasons, a pronouncement of blessing over Sarah’s life, and now through this surprising Amazon order, a blessing that spills over into my life and into this Advent.
I believe that Advent offers us the opportunity, if we allow it, to bless all seasons, as we enter again into this season of waiting and watching and remembering.
Nov 29, the first day of Advent this year, also happens to be Madeline L’Engle’s birthday, as The Writer’s Almanac so helpfully reminded me this morning. And it seems suitable to remember her birth and life at the beginning of this season which is all about birth and life but also death and dying. In her 2008 obituary in the New York Times, Ms. L’Engle was quoted as saying, “Why does anybody tell a story?…It does indeed have something to do with faith, faith that the universe has meaning, that our little human lives are not irrelevant, that what we choose or say or do matters, matters cosmically.”
As we retell a most important story this Advent season, may we also remember that we do it because it matters, matters cosmically. As you bake your cookies, sing your songs, welcome the foreigner and refugee, pray you quiet, desperate prayers, hug your mom, hang your decorations: through it all, may you feel the presence and care and joy of the One who has come, is coming, and will come again to bless all of our seasons.
P.S. Ms. L’Engle is also famous for having said, “You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” This was connected to her publishing A Wrinkle in Time which was rejected by 26 publishers before it was published. 26 publishers!! So, let this be a reminder to us all that rejection doesn’t always know what it is talking about, and that children are often wiser than editors and influencers.