Advent, the Season of Hopeful Expectation

By Mary Green - 26 November 2018
cloister evening 3Copyright © Paul Hurst all rights reserved
When we designed the format for the four annual evenings of Silence in the Cathedral, it was with both the liturgical calendar and the seasons of the year in mind. It is surprising, or perhaps not 10 years on, that we still feel our design fits succinctly into what we had envisioned.

We are once again moving towards the darkest moment in the year. The days are shorter and getting shorter, the sunlight feels even more intense as it condenses itself into its shorter time frame and sits so close to the horizon. So much of nature around us is apparently dying; the foliage, the plants, the leaves falling off the trees; and the earth appears barren. The life-giving sun is limiting its presence, literally disappearing to the other side of the world and we are left with long dark evenings, mornings and nights. No wonder that at this point in the year, hundreds of years ago, people became more acutely aware of their livelihoods, their wellbeing and their very survival as being synonymous with the sun. So when the daylight began to lengthen again on December 21st, at the Winter Solstice, there was indeed great celebration that life and their lives would and could continue.

The theme of life in nature, and its apparent disappearance into the mysterious, the darkness and the unknown beneath the surface of the earth, and the hope that the plant will return, is of course reflected in the ‘Hopeful Expectation of Advent’  (the theme of our Silence in December), waiting for the coming of the Messiah in the darkness, in the unknown, in an earth that feels barren and a landscape that feels empty.

Further to the plant that has apparently died, is the hidden reality that it is being nurtured. Roots that are dormant, in the right conditions, will search for nutrients and water to grow stronger as they reach further into the warmth of the darkness. The colder and more hostile the surface of the earth becomes, the deeper the roots will search. This is a time when plants are revitalising themselves to bear their fruit for the following year. Waiting in stillness and dormancy is a time of deep inner growth. The plant, unconcerned about its outward appearance, needs to penetrate the unknown for its own nourishment.

For some, this can be a useful metaphor as we sit together in Silence, in Advent, in the Cathedral at this point in the liturgical year, ‘with hopeful expectation’, in the knowledge that the unknown, the darkness, the barren earth, is a place where the roots of our faith are strengthened as we wait for the birth of the Messiah.

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