A priest friend of mine recently shared with me an excerpt of a meditation on Advent by Br. Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourette, who is a Benedictine monk living in a monastery near Millbrook, NY. Br. Victor-Antoine works on the monastery’s farm and is in charge of cooking for the community, which fosters in him a deep reverence for the different seasons of the year. “Working with the land, you feel an intuitive connection with creation and the wisdom of it. We enter the mystery of the seasons, planting the seeds, watching the tomatoes, harvesting. Even in winter we take into account what the land has produced and remain grateful for that.”
We who live outside the monasteries are accustomed to a lifestyle that is detached from the rhythms of nature. Modern life is made possible by technology, which give us the feeling of control over nature. Determined to harness, control, and de-mystify nature, we end up depriving ourselves of the wisdom that can be found there. In contrast, Br. Victor-Antoine notes that his monastic labors help him to recognize that “there is an intimate connection between work and prayer. Our spirituality emerges out of that.” This deep experience of the natural seasons opens the monk to a deep appreciation for the liturgical seasons.
This weekend we enter into the 4-week liturgical season of Advent, a period of preparation for the celebration of the birth of Our Lord at Christmas. Unfortunately, the season of Advent is usually overshadowed by the “holiday season,” which is a time of excess and anxiety, antithetical to the joyful sense of anticipation that Advent enkindles. Living Advent well helps us to celebrate Christmas well. Too often, however, by the time December 25 rolls around, we’re so exhausted from shopping and too much food & drink, that we can’t wait for Christmas to be over – when it’s only just begun!
This year we have been reminded that, despite our technological advances, we are not masters of the natural world. As brutal as this reminder has been, the lack of festive gatherings and the reduced consumption might serve as an opportunity to rediscover the holy season of Advent. Br. Victor-Antoine encourages us to spend it by trying to cultivate interior quiet through daily prayer, spiritual reading, reflection, and quiet enjoyment of nature – without the constant distraction of phones, television, or internet. He argues that such disciplines are transformative. “Monks always strive to preserve a more quiet recollected spirit during these lovely Advent days and thus enjoy the Lord’s intimate company. There is no reason why others, in a monastery or elsewhere, could not do the same wherever they are. It is a question of resolving to do so and making the effort. The Holy Spirit shall do the rest.”