When I was little, we hung Advent calendars with little doors that opened for each day leading to Christmas. Then one day I stepped through one of those little doors. It was like stepping into a giant house. When I really discovered Advent, I discovered the church year and a way of walking through days and weeks of the year in the stories and songs of my fathers and mothers of the faith.
For over twenty years, I’ve been exploring old hallways, half-forgotten rooms, and pictures and poems that fill this house of memory. In fact, it might be more accurate to speak of a boat instead of a house. For the church year is like sailing around the globe each year. The tale of St. Brendan the Navigator reveals the church year through the pilgrimage of a small group of monks in search of the Holy Isle. During their seven-year journey, they celebrate the feast days on various islands. Each time they stop, they feast, worship, remember and continue their journey. Their time is shaped by the stories of Scripture and the revelation of Jesus Christ.
You might say that when we celebrate the church year, we step through the door of Advent and onto the boat with St. Brendan. I discovered Advent as a solace. As a place to face my own broken places and my own longing for the coming of the Lord. I watched and waited alongside Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah, and the Jews exiled to the dark land of Babylon. Their stories and longing took form in the cries of John the Baptist as he pointed toward the Coming One.
When I gaze at icons and art of the church, John the Baptist is still pointing to the Coming One. “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” The church year opens with a world on the verge of collapse and the judgment of God looming. In the middle of this dark scene, he points us to our glorious Lord who comes to make things right.
Each season of the year points us to stories of the faithful and unfaithful who are all in desperate need of the grace of God. The church year gave me a way to rehearse and revisit the stories of the Old and New Testament as the story of my family, our family.
Instead of always looking for the latest newest take of spiritual life and formation, we may find a joy in discovering and rediscovering some ancient thoughts on the spiritual life and formation through sermons, prayers, and lives of great men and women of faith who walked in the simple rhythms of feast and fast.
Every year, I begin the journey again. Relearning the rhythm, the dance of faith that can sing in the dark, worship in the face of calamity, and celebrate the mostly hidden gifts that overwhelm us every single day of the year. Whether you’ve walked this path your whole life or are just discovering the pattern of the church year, I invite you to walk alongside as we share stories of faith, prayers of longing and seek to keep our eyes watching as we wait for the coming of our Lord.