Advent this year feels like a season of loss and love, grief and longing, deep in my soul, that I want to be awake and watching for and prepared to receive as a gift.
My spouse and I were privileged to spend a vacation in the beautiful nation of Portugal with our daughter and partner and their children. It was a wonderful time! We loved the rich history, culture, scenery, food, music, and most of all, the people of Portugal.Among the few words and phrases in Portuguese that we learned, one word had particular meaning, “saudade,” that some describe as the most beautiful Portuguese word. In the book, How to Clean a Fish, by Esmeralda Cabral, she describes the word as not easily translated from Portuguese. She writes: There have been numerous efforts to translate saudade, to capture it with one word in English, but all attempts fall short. This is because, in Portuguese it is not just a word, but a feeling. It is nostalgia and longing, “missing you” and yearning, but it is also so much more. It is a deep feeling within your soul of love and loss combined, of trying to capture what may never be again. (UofA Press, Copyright, 2023) We experienced this feeling in the people and the music, especially in the “Fado” or traditional Portuguese songs.
I find this word and feeling compelling. Not to appropriate something essential to Portuguese experience and culture, but to honour a truth it holds. A deep love and loss that we feel, maybe especially in this time, acknowledging a broken world where so many suffer and hurt, individually and collectively. Felt more deeply by some, including our Ukrainian, Jewish, and Muslim neighbours, other people experiencing war and violence, refugees across the world, Indigenous people and communities, those at risk of drug poisoning, without adequate food, shelter or safety in our neighbourhoods, and many others. A feeling deep in our souls. And a yearning for what may never be again.
The Christian season of Advent marked by the four Sundays before Christmas, has become increasingly popular, at least in one expression, with every form of Advent calendar - chocolate, wine, beer, books, stories, reflections and more, to count down the days until Christmas. At its essence, Advent is a season of watching and waiting, of being awake and preparing, for an arrival. Again, within the Christian tradition, awaiting the arrival of the infant Jesus as the embodiment of “God with us.” And, also, the anticipated arrival of the Spirit of Christ at any time, as in the end of all time. I find myself feeling in this season of Advent love and loss combined, grief and yearning for what may never be again.
And so, I wonder, could this Advent and our marking these days of waiting, be inviting me, inviting us, to be aware of, watch for, feel with and for others, this deep love and loss in our souls? And could Advent’s preparing and yearning lead me to reach out to my neighbour who is hurting with compassion, understanding and kindness? And what might arrive, what might be embodied, as gift? Goodness and mercy, justice and equity, hope and lasting peace, like we never could have imagined to be again?
Advent reminds me of God’s deep love and longing for a lost and hurting world. A love and longing enough to meet us in the flesh, as a gift, and everlasting hope for this world.
Rev. Lyle McKenzie is Co-Pastor of Lutheran Church of the Cross and a UVic Multifaith Co-Spiritual Care Provider.
You can read more articles on our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking, at https://www.timescolonist.com/blogs/spiritually-speaking
* This article was published in the print edition of the Times Colonist on Saturday, December 9th 2023