On Saturday December 2, my son and I walked out of our warm house, our tummies full from a stew my mother had so kindly stocked our fridge with only days ago. We were on our way to participate in a ceremony we knew from his early years at a Waldorf Steiner school: walking the Advent Spiral.
Traditionally celebrated four Sundays before the Winter Solstice, Advent is a time of reflection and introspection. A time to lean into the dark days of the present moment, as well as being hopeful for the lighter days to come after the solstice. And though we joined in the spiral walk at the St. Barnabas, an Anglo-Catholic church in Victoria’s Fernwood neighbourhood, it is a ritual open to anyone, no matter what their belief system. At its heart, it is a timeless ritual to connect to us to Nature with reverence and awe.
My son is now twelve; and there was a longing in my heart for us to do this again.
Why? Because I can see how much has shifted for him over the past few years. How he is currently on the cusp of teenager-hood. How so much of his life force and energy is attracted by the shiny and attractive stimulation of the world beyond; and how I want for him to nourish, sustain and grow the capacity of his inner self.
So we drove to the church. Or attempted to! 🙂
It was also the night for a “lighted truck parade” in our neighbourhood, an annual parade featuring large trucks from all sorts of businesses, decorated in a dazzling light display, driving up the Main Street of the village. The sound of their honking is so loud that we can hear it inside our house, which is no where close to the Main Street.
The truck parade of course was moving through just as we were trying to get to the spiral, on the same road! After a few detours, we finally caught its end. The throng of people was loud, there were cheers and laughter. Finally they walked back homeward, while we awaited our turn to cross the busy road.
We finally made it to the church only to notice that there weren’t many cars there. We wondered if we had arrived at the right time, but then I noticed a few people walking toward a door on the side of a building. We followed. Inside we were greeted by Jasmine the family program director and pastor’s wife. She was a warm and welcoming woman, with bouncy dark curls. She looked right at you when she spoke and I could feel her kindness. We waited for a few minutes until everyone arrived. It seems we were all late because of that truck parade.
Finally, it was time to enter the dark community hall, a lovely rectangular building with clerestory windows and a wooden floor. We walked into the hall and sat down on cushions by Jasmine. She knelt under some white curtains lit up simply with golden lights. She held a shepherd doll, and a little felt sheep.
In the tradition of Steiner storytelling, she recounted a story. This one was about a ring that was found in the waters off the coast of Israel. It was a beautiful and simple story about a shepherd boy who had met the baby Jesus. My son, even at 12 felt its spell. Of sitting in quiet and simply listening without any other sensory interruption.
Now it was time to walk to the spiral. We took our seats on its periphery. It was made from evergreen boughs carefully laid out in a circular, weaving path. Evergreen boughs symbolize life. At its very centre, there was a large beeswax candle that the pastor lit. It glowed golden bright. When you looked closer, you noticed that there were many brown paper stars placed at certain points along the labyrinth. Each one marked a station and were peopled with gorgeous little wooden or felted figures of angels, of children, of a shepherd boy, or the wise men, or an animal.
One by one, we walked quietly up to Jasmin. She handed us a golden candle held in an apple. Our work? To walk carefully alone to the centre of the spiral, light our candle using the light from the central candle; and then walk carefully back outward, stopping to place the candle down at a spot of our own choosing.
A flautist played Christmas carols in the background. Everyone was quiet. Only the gurgles of a baby were heard. One by one, from the youngest children to grandparents, we walked the spiral. Each person walked in their own particular way. Some quickly, some slowly and reverentially. I noticed how different all our walks were. I wondered that life moves so quickly that we don’t notice these things much of the time.
I watched my son walk. He walked fast, as he does in life. As he bent down to place his candle, his hand was a little unsteady. But the flame stayed lit and he continued on. When it was my turn I noticed the warmth of each candle. How the light illuminated the little figures, which were placed just so. I thought to myself, how important it is to understand that while it can take time, how it is possible still to shine light on the darkest edges of life.
I’m not sure how long the ritual took. But at the end, once the final child had completed their turn, we sat and took in the beauty of the completely illuminated spiral.
You could cast many metaphors here. That night, I was reminded how powerful it is to connect in with community. How we can literally brighten and lighten the heaviness of life and its challenges when we come together. I also felt that power of silence. Its meditative quality. Of how silence holds space for us, from which to create new things, new ideas… new sound. Of how important it is to slow, really slow life down, especially at a time, this holiday season, when it seems to move too quickly.
That night, I asked my son what he had experienced. He said, “I haven’t sat quietly like that in so long.”
I felt his words. It was exactly what I had hoped for. To help us both tune back in to the magic and awe of relishing these darker, winter months. Of experiencing first hand the sweetness of honouring light and the ritual of circling the sun. Of being part of something larger than the everyday.
Which by the way, is exactly what ritual and ceremony offers us. A gateway into the sacred.
Thanks for reading. May you find moments of quiet, peace and calm over the holidays and beyond.
ps. Here are some blog posts I have enjoyed reading about the how’s and why’s of an Advent Spiral.