Monday, December 3, 2007

Winter Madness

Therefore, Advent is not tragedy. Like Buddhism, Advent does not raise its fist against the abyss, but sees fulfillment in emptiness. The encroaching darkness turns out be a virgin’s womb.

Among the Western Churches, Advent begins the Church Year. Advent is not a natural beginning like a birthday. There is no occasion to mark the coming of Advent. No solstice, equinox, birth, event or death marks it. It just comes, a month before Christmas, rather like the dusk of that most harried day I thought would never end.

Be awake, for you do not know the day or the hour. Be awake. It is hard to stay awake in winter, to rise from our beds while stars still hang in the sky, to emerge from the subway mere blocks from the office just as dawn is breaking in the East. Winter fills us with dreams of sleep, with night visions, with the hope that if I bundle tight enough into the covers that it will all go away and that I will find peace. Winter threatens depression. Children in the far north stand under sunlamps to avoid rickets or seasonal affective disorder.

The first peoples knew about the disorders of winter. Reverie could cost you your life when the world is frozen and dark. Among the Greenlanders was a well known madness that struck in late autumn and to which women and dogs were especially susceptible and which often resulted in death, the end of the world. The Chukchi of northeastern Siberia tell the story of a girl who wintered in a grave house among the dead. She returned in the spring to reassure her family, but things could never be the same again and after not much time, she left forever to return to her home among the dead. In a dream I had as an adolescent, winter arrived as a fleet of black flying reptiles who devoured the white pelicans of summer, turning their falling feathers into snow. Madness is present in Advent, too, the frenzy of shopping and desire, the loss of restraint and boundary that doctors associate with insanity, a disorder of borders.

O come O come Emmanuel. It’s about time.

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