Gertrud Mueller Nelson is a Jungian and an artist. Her book To Dance with God: Family Ritual and Community Celebration is the most astonishing and enriching guide to the Christian year I've ever encountered. Her understanding of Advent is particularly poignant. Here are some excerpts:
In the Dead of Winter
It is Advent, and, along with nature, we are a people waiting. Far out of the south, the winter light becomes thin and milky. The days grow shorter and colder and the nights long. Try as we may, we cannot fully dismiss the fundamental feelings that lie deep at our roots, a mixture of feelings dark and sweet. Will the sun, the source of our life, ever return? Has the great light abandoned us? . . . We want to be touched this season – moved at a level that lies deep in us and is hungry and dark and groaning with a primal need. Like the receptive fields, we lie fallow and wanting. The dark, feminine, elusive quality of our receptivity is not helpless passivity. We are willing to receive the Spirit. We wait to be impregnated. . .
The Marriage of Heaven and Earth
Gently, relentlessly as fine dew, the Divine soaks into a wanting humanity. And we celebrate the marriage of heaven to earth. The great opposites unite. God the heavenly Father has through his Spirit impregnated Mary, woman of the earth. Through the mystery of the incarnation, the flesh taking of the spirit, mater is made equal in value to the spirit. Our humanity is made Godlike and God expresses himself through what is thoroughly human. . .
Matter is given a rightful place, alongside God, equal in value to the godly, container of the godly, but not a God, not deified. . . . For God’s purposes, matter was not too humble. Woman was fully worthy to bear his Son. Straw and animals, peasant-shepherds and the smalls of the barnyard, all that the world deems inferior and worthless as the setting for God’s self disclosure among us. . .
Paradox is the place of mystery, the point of intersection which we enact and celebrate in Advent. And paradoxes are the theme of the Scripture readings during this season. A virgin shall be with child. The blind will see, the deaf hear, the lame leap, the dumb tongue sing. The wolf will be the guest of the lamb. The calf and the young lion will browse together. The cow and the bear will be neighbors. The lion will eat hay with the ox. The baby will play by the cobra’s nest. Only the poet-prophet can describe such truth.
The Advent Wreath
Pre-Christian peoples who lived far north and who suffered the archetypal loss of life and light with the disappearance of the sun had a way of wooing back life and hope. . . As the days grew shorter and colder and the sun threatened to abandon the earth, these ancient people suffered the sort of guilt and separation anxiety which we also know. Their solution was to bring all ordinary action and daily routine to a halt. They gave in to the nature of winter, came away from their fields and put away their tools. They removed the wheels from their carts and wagons, festooned them with greens and lights and brought them indoors to hang in their halls. They brought the wheels indoors as a sign of a different time, a time to stop and turn inward. They engaged the feelings of cold and fear and loss. Slowly, slowly they wooed the sun-god back. And light followed darkness. Morning came earlier. The festivals announced the return of hope after primal darkness.
This kind of success – hauling the very sun back: the recovery of hope – can only be accomplished when we have the courage to stop and wait and engage fully in the winter of our dark longing. . .
Imagine what would happen if we were to understand that ancient prescription for this season literally remove – just one – say the right front tire from our automobiles and use this for our Advent wreath. Indeed things would stop. Our daily routines would come to a halt and we would have the leisure to incubate. We could attend to our precarious pregnancy and look after ourselves. Having to stay put, we would lose the opportunity to escape or deny our feelings or becomings because our cars could not bring us away to the circus in town. . .
During Advent we are invited to become vulnerable to our longings and open to our hope. Like the pregnant mother who counts the days till her labor and prepares little things for the child on the way, we count the days and increase the light as we light our candles and prepare our gifts.