Hallo again to all.
Just before Advent Sunday, we crafted our letter round the idea of the season as one of waiting (okay), stillness (okay), and cold and darkness (not okay—read on). We were gently taken to task by some of our readers in the Southern Hemisphere for neglecting the fact that there the weather is at its most beautiful, the sun high in the sky, flowers in bloom. Oh dear.
Of course the 'darkness' of Advent can be used metaphorically—the world shrouded in darkness, waiting for the light of Christ—but too often we can easily move from mystical to actual, and craft an Advent atmosphere of our own making, applying the short northern days, the bare branches of trees, and the general wintry mood to the whole communion. What we do with Advent is even easier with Christmas, where northern-hemisphere domination applies in the form of fallen snow, fires in the hearth, evergreens, and decorating traditions based on icicles and holly berries. We laughed aloud the first time we saw a cactus with Christmas lights on it.
At AO, we strive, almost officiously, to be rigourously international. We try to avoid a country-specific point of view, eschew local church-specific terminology when we can, and hope that you never think about where any of us live physically on this planet. But as we thought about solutions to inappropriate seasonal symbolism, was the only answer a bland avoidance of any symbols at all? Then it occurred to us, somewhat belatedly, that the locus classicus for Advent symbolism is the 'Middle East', with all its desert dryness and brilliant blazing sun. If anything, it's northern hemisphere symbols that have gone awry. Deserts that blossom like a rose; parched streams that are filled; barren places that are made new and green...
One of the greatest joys for us of working on Anglicans Online every week is the view we get into your parishes. We list many thousands of parish websites and we believe that we've looked at each of them at least once. Tonight we went on a whirlwind tour of parish websites in South Africa and New Zealand and Rwanda and Australia and the Solomon Islands. We read parish newsletters, looked for pictures of decorations and parish halls, and read about baptisms and weddings and the occasional funeral. It was joyous. There wasn't an evergreen or an icicle to be found anywhere.
Perhaps a good exercise for each of us would be to look round throughout our worldwide communion and, from time to time, purposefully incorporate symbolism not of our own into our meditations and thoughts (if not our worship). A sort of Anglican-Communion image-exchange programme, with northern-hemisphere people and parishes becoming a bit south, the western hemisphere a bit east—and vice versa. It's easy to dismiss this as a silly exercise that serves no purpose. But isn't it our own images, as it were, that need to be dusted off and even put away (or broken) now and then? If we imprison something as simple as the church's year in our own comfortable signs and symbols, do we end up constricting Our Lord by our own local perspective, through our country-specific and culture-specific lens? Indeed, Christ transcends culture, but we also live and experience and worship through our own. It's part of the business of being human. But as natural as that is, we need, from time to time, to be jarred out of it. An Advent summer did just that for us here at Anglicans Online.
See you next week. We'll do our best to be wearing shorts, sunglasses, and a T-shirt.
updated: 8 December 2002