Monday, December 3, 2007

Advent: Sweet Sorrow

by Stephen Crippen

I’m one of the people who loves Advent. The deepening darkness, the silence, the sense of longing and expectation. Readings on Sundays are bracing: warnings of end times, commands to stay awake, to keep the watch. But they are also exhilarating: a young woman is told that she’s pregnant, and that her child will bring hope and salvation to her people. All of us who are waiting—and who isn’t waiting for something?—hear the Angel’s words of encouragement: “Rejoice, favored one! The Lord is with you.”

So like all great seasons, like all great celebrations, Advent is all about paradox: in waiting, we are fulfilled. In watching, we find the face of the other, gazing back at us in the darkness. In grieving, we are comforted. The light shines all the brighter because of the deep darkness around it. I’ve been reading poetry by the 13th-Century poet Rumi, and I like how he talks about grief. This is for me an Advent poem:

I saw grief drinking a cup of sorrow
and called out,
It tastes sweet, does it not?
You have caught me, grief answered,
and you have ruined my business.
How can I sell sorrow,
when you know it’s a blessing?

I’m a therapist who works with people on relationship problems, grief, and coping with change. So I know how sorrow can be a blessing, how a cup of sorrow can taste sweet. My clients (like me) usually learn the most about themselves—and grow the most—during times of sorrow, struggle, and challenge. This season doesn’t banish the darkness, or deny the sorrow that human beings experience. Advent helps us see how our sorrows and problems transform us, and strengthen us. It sounds weird, but I’ll say it anyway: may you be blessed with sweet sorrow this Advent!

Stephen is a therapist and postulant to the Diaconate. His website is linked above, and you can find his personal blog here.

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