I am delighted to share an Advent resource with you that I have fallen in love with. All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings by Gayle Boss features twenty-five reflections on how wild animals from North America adapt to the changing seasons of light to dark. The illustrations on each page are lovely, as well. Not only do I find this a truly unique approach loaded with spiritual insight for us, but I also ADORE that it is rooted in the goodness and enough-ness of creation. We earthly creatures have what we need to adapt and survive even the harshest conditions. That’s some solid original blessing Advent preaching for you!
I also think this is a deeply important message for us this particular year, when so many of us look at the world around us and feel that perhaps our normal way of breezing airily toward Christmas does not feel genuine. We need a resource that acknowledges the descent of the dark, and the natural fear that arises within us because of it. What does Advent hope look like when it is courageous enough to face change and darkness head on? It feels wise and right to look toward the animals, to listen as they seek to teach us.
I’m honored that Gayle was willing to talk with us about her book. And here’s great news- it’s now available as an audiobook, too! You can get it on Scribd here, or on estories here. It should also be available on Amazon and Audible soon.
Gayle, thanks so much for sharing about your new Advent book, All Creation Waits. I think it’s one of the most unique and helpful Advent resources I’ve seen in years! Will you talk briefly about how this theme came to be?
The seed for the book was planted 22 years ago — in frustration! I wanted an Advent calendar for my then four-year-old son, but the only ones I could find in stores featured candy canes or manger scenes behind the little cut-out doors–Christmas pictures, not Advent pictures. I knew from earlier research in church history that Advent is rooted in the earth and the season of dying light. Early church practices urged the faithful to do what all creation does: to strip down to the essentials, to wait, and to discover in our darkest season that One comes to us offering us light and new life. So I had no choice but to make my own Advent calendar with pictures of creation waiting. Behind door number 1 I drew a picture of a turtle buried in the mud. Days before, my son’s godmother had sent me her meditation on Turtle as a symbol of how a healthy soul might respond in a dark time. And I drew a turtle because my son loved pictures of animals. After that, other animals entered my calendar — a bear, a doe, a crow, a snake. It took me 17 years, though, to have the idea of making a book aimed at adults that would be an elaboration of the calendar. I made the book for the same reason that I made the calendar. I want all of us to know what the animals have never forgotten, the same truth that’s at the heart of the gospel: The dark is not an end, but a door; it’s the way a new beginning comes.
I admit I’m no naturalist, but I was so surprised to learn how these animals adapt to the winter. How on earth did you learn all of this?
Research, research, and more research. I observed all the animals in the book, and I read lots of articles, books, and blogs. I talked to naturalists, too, both professional and self-taught.
Many of us have been trained to see Advent as a period of waiting that comes before the big “reveal” of Christmas. I love that your book invites us to consider a simply natural, cyclical time of waiting. Can you explore that for us a little more?
Well, as I mentioned, the book wants to return us to the roots of Advent. The early fathers of the church instituted the liturgy of Advent in the 4th century to respond to the fears of their agricultural congregations of the northern hemisphere. Those agricultural people depended on the earth in a way we can’t imagine. In late autumn they were feasting on their harvest; they were celebrating. They were also growing more fearful by the day as the sun sank lower and lower on the horizon and the temperatures dropped. What if the sun didn’t return? What if there was no growing season next year? They were celebrating AND they were scared. The Church stepped right into their fear and said, Yes, light and life are going. But whenever light and life go, One comes and comes, bringing us a new beginning. Though we don’t depend on the earth in that way, we’re still made of earth, and even though it’s largely unconscious, we, too, feel a dis-ease at this time of year. Forms of life are ending. Light is going. Rather than get depressed, as many people do at this time of year without really knowing why, or denying our dis-ease by taking up all the distractions the commercial culture offers us (shopping, parties, more shopping), we can engage the season, wait in the dark like our animal brothers and sisters, and discover the truth that’s always been at the core of Advent: One comes to us in the dark with a new beginning.
In the same vein, I love that your book highlights how animals are designed to adapt to circumstances and seasons, even seasons of bitter cold and descending darkness. These are not “supernatural” skills but innate ones, intuitive ones. What can we as humans learn from them about our own capabilities?
Each of these animals can be a symbol, a guide, offering a way to adapt when dark and cold — literal and figurative — descend on us. Maybe, like the turtle buried in mud, in a dark season of our lives we need to go so slow that we seem to be dissolving in order to wake to a new life. Maybe like the muskrat we have to dive deeper for what nourishes us and gather with others, even non-kin, for the extra warmth of a group huddle. Maybe, like the little brown bat, we knit ourselves into a “group body” for sustenance. In the book there are 24 different animal responses to the dark season, 24 different ways for us to learn a healthy response to dark and cold, literal or figurative.
I noticed again and again how the shadow of death in winter was so present in these pages. I think that has something to teach us, too, about the shadows of death that hang over even our nativity story, shadows we so often avoid in favor of the upbeat parts. Talk with us about how these animals face near-death as they seek survival, and what that has to tell us about this season.
In a threatening season, animals don’t get depressed, and they don’t deny the threat with distraction. They face it. They take in the threat and they adapt themselves to life as it is given to them. Acknowledging the dark season, feeling it, and learning from it (with the help of our brothers and sisters the animals), we find One at the core who is there to show us Light, a new way, a new beginning.
Your subtitle is “The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings.” We often hear about Advent of course as the beginning of the new liturgical year, and of new birth. But your book explores some other subtle themes of new beginning. Can you share a little more about that? What does new beginning look like?
See all the answers above! The new year, the new birth (the sun returning at the solstice, the Light becoming incarnate in Christ) are especially powerful coming when the physical darkness is deepest. But the truth of the gospel, the truth at the heart of this book, is that whenever we find ourselves in a dark season of soul, One comes to us with a new beginning. But we do have to find ourselves, locate ourselves, abide in that darkness to receive the light of a new beginning.
Thanks so much to Gayle for sharing with us, and for writing this beautiful and wise Advent devotional. I hope you’ll consider getting one for yourself and for friends this season. I have found it grounding and insightful.
(Full disclosure: Gayle and I share a publisher, Paraclete Press.)