December 15, 2011

Advent: Anticipation and Disappointment?

What do you do when you no longer like your favorite Christmas cookie?

Peppermint candy cane cookies: I’ve made them for almost 30 years and can’t imagine a Christmas without them. Two and a half sticks of butter, a cup of confectionary sugar; buttery yet not overly sweet. After scraping down the bowl, I eagerly tasted a piece of the dough.

And stopped. I didn’t like what I tasted.

Checking the recipe, I retraced my steps; did I forget to add the egg? A quick check showed the broken eggshell. Does confectionary sugar go bad?

I asked Bill to have a taste. He didn’t understand what I was talking about. The dough tasted fine to him. Had something happened to my taste buds?

Later, with the cookies baked and cooled, I took another taste. It was okay; nothing special. Where had the magic gone?

My unexpected change in taste was colliding with an anticipated experience. Without warning, something that had once been very special to me was now merely okay. The depth of my disappointment and my feeling of loss surprised me.

Is this how we feel when cherished, remembered traditions are changed? And, if so, how do we gracefully let go of what was and open ourselves to what is?

In my life, I’ve experienced the push/pull of tradition and change. Perhaps you’ve also experienced the comfort – and frustration – of the familiar, especially when something different catches your eye, followed by the sinking feeling that you shouldn’t try it because it might upset - or interfere with – a family or community tradition. It might be something personal and small – like my changing taste in cookies or something larger such as first time I ‘broke’ family tradition and spent Christmas with my daughter in Honduras rather than with my mother and extended family.

My mother’s reaction: Instead of focusing on what was being lost, she made plans to move our ‘traditional’ family brunch from Christmas Day to New Year’s Day and with my sister developed a new plan for celebrating Christmas. Her action reminded me that we should explore new opportunities – and face our disappointments - while finding ways to hold on to that which is precious to us: our connection. Avoiding honest conversations – or taking action - out of fear can limit our capacity to explore new ways of being together – and in my experience, this fear is usually unfounded.

Advent is a time of waiting, preparation, and anticipation. We look forward to Christ’s birth – the new thing God is bringing to us – while at the same time, we have the opportunity to let go, to explore our changing tastes, interests, or needs, and embrace new understandings of how things might be. As faith communities, what can we do to make space for people to give voice to their anticipations and disappointments – not only during Advent but also throughout the year – and create a safe space for letting go, exploring change, and opening ourselves to embrace this new thing that God is calling us to do.