This article was originally published by The Mennonite

Advent day 18: Remembering as a spiritual practice

Jenny Castro is communications associate and coordinator of the Women in Leadership Project for Mennonite Church USA.

Years ago, as a way of marking Advent and creating rituals with our children, we began building a collection of children’s books related to Advent, Christmas, what this season means to us, and its significance to our faith and how we live. Each year at the start of Advent, we wrap as many books as there are days until Christmas, numbering them in descending order from the first day of Advent down to Christmas Day. Each night before bed, one of the kids gets to open a book and we all snuggle together as we read it.

We’ve been doing this since before my youngest was born. We’ve kept the tradition through several moves, including one to Nicaragua and back. We’ve kept it during illness, during pregnancy, during travels, and even when it felt inconvenient. Advent books, after years of reading together, are this season’s treasure for my family. Even my 12 year-old eagerly awaits his night to open the book, delightfully tearing off the paper, eager to see which beloved story we’ll share. Often as the paper is torn and the book’s cover peeks through, someone will inevitably squeal, “I love that one!” or sigh, “It’s one of my favorites!”

Over the years we’ve rotated different books into and out of the particular year’s collection, but there are some books without which it wouldn’t be Advent. I remember where we sat the first year we read, “The Black Snowman,” and how the first year we added “Angela and the Baby Jesus,” my Frida asked for it to be read (and we did) every night for the rest of Advent. I remember the well of tears and the lump in my throat that arose when I first read how “Charro Claus and the Tejas Kid” traveled back and forth over the border of Texas and Mexico, not to be stopped by, “rain or cloudy skies or walls or wire fences …” And I remember the beautiful conversation that unfolded when my kids didn’t understand why I was crying. So many meaningful exchanges have resulted from questions that arose during Advent stories.

Rituals have a beautiful way of inspiring memories like this.

For too many reasons this Advent season, the passage of despair from the Psalms resonates in my heart. The psalmist writes,

“My tears have been my food

    day and night,

while people say to me continually,

    ‘Where is your God?’”

And I think to myself, “Well yes, I wonder that sometimes too. Where is God?” Psalm 42:3

Fear can too often feel too big. And despair can too easily overwhelm. Heartbreak is a heavy weight to bear. And people can be so cruel.

Traditionally, during the season of Advent we put into practice the spiritual discipline of waiting. We nurture patience. We listen. We anticipate. But how do we listen when we’re heartbroken? How do we wait patiently when our pain eclipses other possibilities? How do we hope when we are paralyzed by fear?

This Advent I’ve found snippets of hope in the practice of remembering—recalling moments, interactions, conversations, prayers that in past have rooted me in this season of hope and anticipation. This remembering then becomes a spiritual practice that reminds me of who God is and who I am. And as we enter into this practice of remembering together (with the help of Advent rituals), we remind one another of who we have been and how we’ve experienced God together. We recall together how we’ve lived out our faith and remember the action our faith has inspired.

Maybe I won’t be leading the procession this year. Maybe it’s enough to remember and give thanks for the times that this was indeed my experience.

And like the psalmist, I’ll say, “These things I remember …” (42:4)

And through this practice of remembering, I’ll catch glimpses of hope.

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