Weekend Reading
December 1, 2019

Weekend Reading | The Full Helping

In addition to being the first day of the month, it’s also the first day of Advent. I grew up observing the Advent season at home. My holiday celebration is different now that I’m older and on my own, but I do still try to keep Advent in my heart and soul throughout December, regardless of how busy the month tends to be. Last year, I was too distracted with my internship to really feel the coming of Christmas, but I think it’ll be different this year.

I was happy to stumble on this thoughtful essay about the Advent season in the New York Times today. The author, an Anglican priest, offers the reminder that, according to the church calendar, Advent isn’t a celebration of Christmas. That celebration begins on Christmas day. Advent is about readying ourselves for Christmas, and that readiness includes recognition of our own hunger and yearning for completeness.

The author, Tish Harrison Warren, writes,

For Christians, Christmas is a celebration of Jesus’ birth — that light has come into darkness and, as the Gospel of John says, “the darkness could not overcome it.” But Advent bids us first to pause and to look, with complete honesty, at that darkness.

To practice Advent is to lean into an almost cosmic ache: our deep, wordless desire for things to be made right and the incompleteness we find in the meantime. We dwell in a world still racked with conflict, violence, suffering, darkness. Advent holds space for our grief, and it reminds us that all of us, in one way or another, are not only wounded by the evil in the world but are also wielders of it, contributing our own moments of unkindness or impatience or selfishness.

While I don’t experience faith in the same way that Warren does, I was touched by her description of the human ache for “things to be made right.” Suffering and darkness are part of our world and our experience of it; they’re part of what give meaning and existence to joy.

During the holidays, it’s difficult not to feel pressured to be celebratory all the time; as Warren points out, this pressure may be part of what contributes to the “holiday blues” that so many people feel when their emotions don’t align with expectations of seasonal cheer.

In Warren’s opinion, though, acknowledgment of suffering can be a part of the Advent season:

We need communal rhythms that make deliberate space for both grief and joy . . . Abstaining, for a moment, from the clamor of compulsive jollification, and instead leaning into the reality of human tragedy and of my own need and brokenness, allows my experience of glory at Christmastime to feel not only more emotionally sustainable but also more vivid, vital and cherished.

This resonated with me, and it actually aligned with what I’d been feeling on Thanksgiving this past week.

For the last few years, I’ve entered the holidays with a lot of hope and expectation, the desire for the season to brighten things, or to make them right. I didn’t feel this way on Thursday morning, when I woke up. I was glad to have plans with my mom and an opportunity to be especially grateful, which is what the day means to me. But I didn’t have a vision of the day or an idea of how it had to be. And it ended up being one of the nicest holidays that we’ve had in years.

I appreciate the specialness of the holidays; apart from any spiritual connotations, they feel sacred to me, if only because they were a big part of my childhood and continue to be an important ritual for me and my mom.

But I think it’s important to make space for sorrow at this time of year, not in spite of the fact that it invites us to be jubilant but rather because it does. My therapist always gently reminds me that you can’t mute one side of the emotional spectrum without ultimately quieting all of it, and I’ve found this to be true. By acknowledging the sadness in our world and our lives, we make ourselves more able to value and experience sweetness.

I’m entering Advent with a quiet openness, a gentle receptivity to everything. This includes cheer and mirth, but it also includes the whole spectrum of human realness. And I’m remembering to acknowledge the suffering that befalls people and animals everywhere around the world, even as I hope for peace and goodwill for us all.

Happy December, friends. Here are some recipes and reads.

Recipes

I’m sorry I didn’t stumble on these scalloped potatoes in time for Thanksgiving!

A beautiful, festive wild rice salad.

Quite possibly the most authentic and appetizing vegan carbonara recipe I’ve found.

Allie’s lentil and rice stuffed squash is simple, yet so perfect for a holiday centerpiece.

I adore bulgur, and this golden hued stew is on my list of recipes to try!

Reads

1. My heart was warmed by Erin McDowell’s reminiscences of baking pie with her Grandmother. Whether you love rolling pie crust or not, it’s a lovely tribute to the consolations of being in the kitchen.

2. This isn’t a new video, but it reminded me of how mighty plants are!

3. Distressingly, US life expectancy is declining because of more deaths among middle aged Americans. The article cites the opioid epidemic as a major factor, but heart disease is another. This makes me hope that plant-based eating trends, which may aid in prevention, continue to grow.

4. I love this story of camaraderie and breaking bread in my hometown. (And on the subway, no less.)

5. And finally, Tish Harrison Warren’s meditations on the Advent season.

This week, a holiday-friendly, winter-ready comfort food recipe. Till soon,

xo

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    2 Comments
  1. Dear Gena, Skipping back to read your post on Advent. How beautiful. Advent has always been a powerful time for me as well, since my family too observed it very closely. My Dad even put purple “Advent lights on the house, and would only change them to mulicolored Christmas ones on Christmas Eve. We also had a tradition of getting a straw to fill the creche for baby Jesus for each kind thing we thought to do each day of Advent, and on Christmas morning the baby Jesus would appear in the creche full of soft straw. When I first started writing my blog, seven years ago now I wrote a post honoring Advent called “On Waiting.” I doubbt the old dinosaur I’m trying to type this message to you on will make the link live, but here it is anyway. Thanks for your beautiful and profound words on this season. Much love xoxo https://fatfreevegan.com/slowmiracle/2012/12/01/on-waiting/

  2. Gena,

    Your reflections remind me about that quote of Darwin’s from his book, The Origin of Species. To paraphrase (and quote): we admire nature and its beauty but “…we do not see, or we forget, that the birds which are idly singing round us mostly live on insects and seeds, and are thus constantly destroying life.” You have to have both things, often at the same time. And I like your therapist’s advice that if we mute one emotion we tend to dampen them all. It’s hard, all of it; the holidays are especially tough. I don’t celebrate advent but I like the idea of having “double vision”, seeing both happiness and sadness at once, in order to realign/reaffirm what we both think and feel simultaneously.

    I’ll peruse the articles this week, thank you. The one on declining life expectancy is disturbing.

    Happy advent! Enjoy the time.
    Libby

You might also like

In the summer of 2010, I signed up for Nutrition I at Hunter College. I was twenty-eight, a professional book editor who hadn’t taken a science class since high school. Uncharacteristically for me—I’m usually very decisive—I couldn’t decide between a future in medicine, dietetics, or mental health. But I knew that I wanted to make a career change, and this was the place to start. I loved my job, but I loved helping people to experience pleasure and well-being through food even more….

I don’t have many photos of myself. If you were to enter my apartment, you’d find a few framed pictures of my mom and one of me at age eight or nine, all pigtails and missing front teeth, smiling directly to the camera. I love the lack of inhibition in the photo, the sweet confidence. I hang onto the image as a reminder that as a child, I was unashamed of being seen. I came into life with this quality, and it’s always there, no matter…

Happy Sunday, friends. Thanks for all of your enthusiasm for Jackie’s book! Another quiet and slow weekend here, punctuated by some housekeeping and some time catching up with friends. It has been, by and large, a solitary summer, and this is intentional. For me, self-study and growth have always seemed to necessitate quite a lot of solitude–more, even, than my introverted nature usually demands. But with an introverted temperament always comes the danger of isolation or of hiding away, and I’m aware of this, even…

Happy weekend! And to those of you who celebrated Rosh Hashanah this week, happy new year. I greeted the holiday with Isa‘s vegan challah from Superfun Times and a gathering with my chosen family on Thursday evening. It was a lovely night, rich in conversation and good food. I got to thinking about how five months ago I sat at the exact same table for Passover, my outlook and spirits so different than they are now. I remember how much it took for me…