Reflection on an Advent Morning

I know the contours of this land as intimately as I know the arc of Advent: the slope of the pasture and height of the ridge, the thick canopy of the pine forest and black deep of the pond. I walk every morning on an unchanging trail, secure in the embrace of these steadfast mountains believed to be the oldest in the world.mountain-valley

But, behold, today, a flock of wild turkeys strutting up the grassy hill. Yesterday, a sparkling mist draped the dark trunks of the oaks, and the day before the heavens opened wide to pour out a cleansing rain. Unexpected gifts. A swirl of red and gold leaves surrendering to an autumn wind. A spider web dripping with dew. Spiny horse chestnuts and mottled black walnuts fallen on the path. A riot of pink ladyslippers poking their heads through the damp spring earth, and a huddle of delicate Queen Anne’s lace nodding in a summer dawn. The insistent call of a red-tailed hawk answered with the operatic song of a wood thrush, echoed in the eerily plaintive cry of a screech owl. A shimmering rainbow spanning the cove, and a pink cloud hovering below blue peaks against a sunset-scarlet sky. Enough to take one’s breath away.

This land is always the same. And always changing. Like Advent.

As we walk once more the well-worn path from Hope, through Peace and Joy, to Love, let us take comfort in the familiarity of the way. Let us light each candle with intention, a signpost to guide us through the gathering darkness. We have been here before. It is all the same. And surprises beyond our imagining await us.

‘As a Deer Longs for Flowing Streams…’

Here in the wondrous mountains of Southern Appalachia, we begin Advent in a state of extreme drought, circled by raging wildfires. We wander a parched land through a haze of smoke, eyes stinging and throats burning. Never before have the psalmist’s words meant so much to me: “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul thirsts for you, O God” (Ps. 42:1).plant-in-rain

We awake every morning anxious to hear the day’s air quality hue: green (go ahead and breathe), yellow (breathe, but do so cautiously), orange (don’t breathe too much if you have heart or respiratory problems), red (take comfort in knowing that breathing is bad for everybody), or purple (consider hibernation). I listen to the regular radio reports but could get the news just as easily from the rooster at the end of our cove. He raises a piercing alarm and crows endlessly whenever we’re shrouded in smoke—the very times he should be saving his breath.   Continue reading