A time to embrace

Tracey Edstein

Tracey Edstein

Tracey Edstein is the former editor of Aurora Magazine, the official magazine of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle

I’m a bad daughter. It’s something I’ve always suspected. Especially when I was younger, and my mother used to tell me so. But I received self-confirmation when I went to visit her in hospital.More than a few years earlier, the reputed writer of the Book of Ecclesiastes, Qoheleth, wrote: “There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens. A time to be born and a time to die… A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance… a time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces…” (Eccles 3:1-2,4-5).

All those years ago, Elton John and Tim Rice wrote these lyrics for the film The Lion King:

It’s the circle of life
And it moves us all
Through despair and hope
Through faith and love
‘Til we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the circle
The circle of life…

More than a few years earlier, the reputed writer of the Book of Ecclesiastes, Qoheleth, wrote:

“There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens.

A time to be born and a time to die…

A time to weep, and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn and a time to dance…

a time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces…” (Eccles 3:1-2,4-5).

Amidst the privations and revelations of the year that’s been 2020, these words – from vastly different times – are a helpful reminder of the bigger picture. Whatever restrictions remain as Advent approaches, it will bring a renewed hunger for the connection and warmth the season promises. For those separated from loved ones – across the nation or across the globe – the pain will be sharper, made even more acute by the uncertainty around when travel will be possible.

Mary and Joseph were separated from loved ones as the birth of Jesus drew near, and while his arrival brought joy, it also raised more questions than it answered – as does the birth of any child.

Families, households and parishes preparing to celebrate Christmas may like to recast the ancient symbol of the Advent wreath, or circle, to acknowledge the character of this year and the absences, as well as presences, that will be felt. Instead of an unbroken circle of greenery, why not assemble a circle with gaps? You could use clusters of greenery, or even small green potted plants, to represent each week of Advent, alternating pots and candles in an open circle. 

Why? To signal that while the eternal realities remain, this year is different. The gaps created evoke what is missing – those loved ones who can’t gather this year, the anticipated experiences and events that didn’t occur in 2020, and those who have died during 2020 (whether or not from Covid-19). The following Advent wreath prayer could accompany the lighting of a candle on each of the four Sundays of Advent, perhaps with a special meal or treat, and music that speaks to your family or community. 

First Sunday: Hope for all God’s people

We light this candle for all God’s people,

struggling to be bearers of hope in a time of pandemic,

and to look forward to a safer time for our troubled world.

 

All: God, as we wait for your promise, give light, give hope.

Second Sunday: The prophets

We light this candle for all God’s prophets,

Especially those whose skills in research and healing promise

a new world of freedom and peace.

 

All: God, as we wait for your promise, give light, give hope.

Third Sunday: John the Baptist 

We light this candle for all God’s messengers,

leaders, health professionals, caring neighbours

preparing the way for change, guiding us forward

and pointing to a new age to come.

 

All: God, as we wait for your promise, give light, give hope.

Fourth Sunday: Mary

We light this candle for all God-bearers,

saying ‘yes’ to God’s challenge,

pastoral ministers and carers, women and men of faith,

accepting the pain and joy of an unknown future.

 

All: God, as we wait for your promise, give light, give hope.

Christmas Day: The birth of Christ

We light this candle for the newborn Christ,

reawakening hope and faith –

the Word embodied for our time.

We invoke the hope of a Covid-free world and ask your blessing on 2021.

All: God, as we receive your promise, you are light, you are hope.

Adapted from Jan Berry’s “Give Light, Give Hope” in Ruth Burgess (ed) Candles & Conifers, Wild Goose Publications 2005.

Perhaps after each candle ritual, members of the group could share something of their experience of 2020. Helpful questions might be:

  • What was the most challenging aspect of the year?
  • What will you remember fondly?
  • For what do you give thanks?
  • Do you have any regrets you would like to share?
  • What is your deepest hope for 2021?

And whatever your experience of 2020 has been, remember, “life is changed, not ended”. (Preface of Christian Death I).

“It’s the circle of life
And it moves us all…”

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