on moods, Advent and keeping holy days

I’ve been out of sorts.  Prayer has been pretty dry and perfunctory.  Journal writing and blogging have not been happening.  I was concerned about it.  I’m less so, since I realized it’s been Advent.

For me that’s long been a time of reflection and introspection.  In that season, I’ve often listened to Gregorian chants and appreciated their haunting polyphonies.  Perhaps due to my memories of O Come, Emmanuel, they speak to me of desires for fulfillment, held for generations in anticipation of something more:  enlightenment, world peace, the coming (first, second or third) of a savior.

I’m not so concerned since I remembered I often feel this way at this time of year.  It’s part of the long slide to the winter solstice, which promises celebration after.  From that cycle, I gain more awareness and understanding of the natural and spiritual realities of life.

When we kept laying hens, I noticed that their egg production lagged and improved less due to temperature, precipitation or length of day than as a function of whether the day length was decreasing or increasing.  Just after the winter solstice, we’d start seeing more eggs in the laying baskets.  I noticed that my own emotional state often improved at that time, too.

It’s not too far a conjecture to claim that the earth’s tilt to the sun, the hen’s laying and my moods are all joined.  Chickens are not that divorced from the world we live in.  Nor am I.  I’ve lived long enough in Oregon to know how to be happy in the rain.  And the rain doesn’t decrease on 12/21.  Actually, the opposite happens.  But my mood gets more joyous.

Commercial culture spreads gaiety from the time they call Halloween until the end of the calendar year.  Celebration improves sales.  It seems a bit forced to me.  Our government conceived holiday in that time would have us be reflective and thankful.  That works for me.  During the second half of that time (the four weeks before Christmas), the traditional Christian liturgical calendar encourages fasting, penitence and preparation for the coming of a savior.

Advent ends a few days after the solstice.  By then, I can sense the days lengthening.  I’m ready to find my friends and family and make somebody happy.  That’s when Christmas time begins, not when the decorations go up in the stores.

That change is happening for me now.  I just returned from a trip to Bend with my wife and younger son, who’s visiting from Florida.  We visited fruitfully with the older son and his girlfriend.  Highlights included a Chanukah party she co-hosted, cross country skiing with our four impossibly happy and energetic sheepdogs, lighting candles and saying the traditional prayer in Hebrew (a little of which I understood) and exchanging gifts with each other right after that.  It’s more polyglot than any pure Quaker would feel entirely comfortable in, but I’m not trying (Was I ever?) to be pure.  I’m just thankful to have had my way open to being family with such lively and considerate people.

This year, for the second time I remember, my Friends meeting has scheduled its celebration and exchange of gifts for a time after Christmas day.  I like that timing.  Yes, we were slow in planning it, but I don’t think the choice of date is entirely born out of lack of foresight and planning.  If you’re in the area, come by the Meetinghouse in Corvallis on the morning of the 28th.  Bring something festive for the breakfast potluck, if you can.