Thursday, December 17, 2009

Advent, Awaiting the Birth

I didn't grow up going to church. My mother gave up religion early when she realized that history books and the bible don't jive and no one could give her a good enough answer as to why. My father was raised Irish Catholic, was a Hare Krisna for a while before I was born and, though I believe he has a personal faith and spirituality, never shared it with his family or pursued organized religion. For a while when I was in middle school my mom tried out a local Unitarian Universalist church but though it provided a community for us for a while it never quite stuck. I attended UU churches in college and afterwards but as my personal spirituality grew I found those churches lacking. One year in college my sister and I attended a "modern/evangelical/charismatic" Christian church for an Easter service and I attended a Catholic service that same spring. The Christian service gave me a sense of communal worship I enjoyed, and the Catholic service the sense of tradition I craved, but I couldn't deal with the theology of either.

This winter I started attending a Friends church in my neighborhood. The Friends, or Quakers, are a Christian community most known for their work in social justice and peace as well as their unique, silent worship. I finally quit thinking about going and just went and you know what? I love it. Really, really love it. This church uses a mix of standard churchy stuff like singing, readings and out-loud prayer along with time of silent worship. I found it amazingly refreshing, friendly and welcoming. It has really enhanced my Advent celebration and given me lots to think about this winter.

In the Christian tradition, Advent is the season of waiting and preparing before the birth of Jesus at Christmas. In my evolving eclectic pagan tradition, Advent is a season of waiting and preparing for the birth of the New Year's sun at Solstice. Considering the Bible doesn't say anything about December 25, lights, trees, cookies or hot toddies, I see no reason not to celebrate Advent just because it's been coopted by the Christians for the last thousand years.

Like I noted last post, I am decorating my advent creche again this year specifically using the Waldorf/Steiner tradition of decorating it according to the four realms of the natural world. It was quite bare the first week but it now has stones and crystals, evergreen boughs and animal figurines interspersed between the candles. Next week comes the fairy god mothers, wise men and goddesses and finally, on Solstice and Christmas eves, the baby Son and Sun.

In addition to decorating my creche and lighting candles I have been working towards being mindful of the four realms of creation during each week of Advent. During the second week I walked in the woods on a windy day and was very, very aware of the trees above me. I truly feared that a limb or a tree would come down on me and that fear kept the trees present in the front of my mind the whole afternoon. I collected fallen fir and cedar branches that day and took some holly from a tree in my yard to decorate my creche. The third Sunday of Advent included a trip to a dog park and making gingerbread cookies in the shapes of woodland creatures. Gingerbread hedgehogs are possibly the cutest things ever. I also filled all the bird feeders that week. This last week of Advent will include parties with my friends and more gingerbread men (and women).

Spicy Gingerbread Cookies

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup molasses
2 egg yolks
2 tsp grated fresh ginger
4 1/4 cups flour (any mix of white and whole wheat you would like)
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp allspice or nutmeg
2 tsp cloves
2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp finely ground black pepper
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
more flour for rolling out

*Combine butter and sugar and cream until fluffy and well combined. Add molasses, egg yolks and grated fresh ginger and stir until well combined. I recommend using an electric mixer.

*Stir the spices, salt and leavening with the first cup of flour with a fork. Using a wooden or metal spoon stir the flour into the molasses mix one cup at a time. You will probably need to knead the last half cup in with your hands.

*Lay the dough ball onto a piece of plastic wrap or parchment paper and spread into a thick disk. Wrap completely in plastic wrap or put the parchment wrapped disk in a plastic bag and refrigerate for at least three hours.

*When ready to shape cookies cut or pull baseball sized hunks of dough off the disk and using flour and your hands or a rolling pin roll the dough out into 1/4 inch thick slabs. Use cookie cutters of your choice to shape the dough, place at least 1 inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes. I found that drier dough makes sharper edges on your cookies. Decorate with cinnamon candies or sprinkles before baking or icing after baking,

This new moon is the new moon of the birth moon. We are awaiting the birth of the new year's sun, or of the Son of God. We are celebrating the birth of gingerbread people, of love in our homes and of traditions new and old. What are you doing to mark the path towards the darkest days of the year? What are your deep winter traditions? What's the cutest gingerbread cookie you have ever eaten or made?


mama k said...

I'm SO glad you are loving Quaker church. I have had many many good experiences with the Friends. But have never attended an evangelical congregation, ie with singing and such. I've always visited the silent-type congregations. Well, anyway, I hope I can visit your church sometime with you!

icedteaforme said...

my geneological family is quaker and it resonates with me, we just happen to live in an area without a friends gathering.....both my husband and I were active in organized religion in college in the attempt to "find ourselves" and we both have come to this mish mash place of druid, pagan, native american, christian beliefs that makes perfect sense to us but confuses most of our family....may your advent season find you warm in the presence of family, friends and furry children!

Simple Mama said...

I'm so glad I found your blog...and you're in PDX. Have we met before somewhere and I just can't figure it out because I have a horrible time cross referencing internet friends and IRL friends?

I have similar issues with church. I was raised a liberal (theologically and politically) Methodist. But I have a hard time finding the community I crave and the non literalist theology with local congregations. We are currently without church, but I have hopes that we'll find one soon.

As I'm getting older I'm finding that I'm also drawn to the natural rhythm of nature as part of my spirituality. For me, that component of Waldorf Eduction fits nicely with my beliefs.

Listen to me ramble!

Tan Family said...

What a wonderful post! I'm going to start following your blog. The window star is breathtaking.

Anonymous said...

You are so very clever! "Considering the Bible doesn't say anything about December 25, lights, trees, cookies or hot toddies, I see no reason not to celebrate Advent just because it's been coopted by the Christians for the last thousand years."

I find I am now an eager participant in both Christian and Pagan celebrations. The dissonance I used to feel over which holidays to celebrate and which religious or nonreligious label I wanted to wear is now gone. I am me and I am making this magical life up as I go along, taking a thread from this tradition and another from that and finding the divine all around me. And yet, I don't feel even need it. Just living is glorious.