Last week, I reflected on why we ought to observe Celtic Advent from a faith perspective. This week, a look at how Celtic Advent can effect our family relationships. You will recall, Celtic Advent is really only distinct in the time frames that the Advent is observed – 40 days as contrasted to the 4 Sundays before Christmas. Of course, there are additional needs in attempting to observe a longer season – namely, more time for reflection and perhaps a greater sense of intentionality. But I believe that with a careful observation of Celtic Advent we can do much to recover what is meaningful about Christmas and, in terms of family relationships we also have some things to recover.
Celtic Advent: Recovering Family Relationships
Whether you are a Christ-follower or not, the family is in great peril in our society. Marriage in general has seen a growing trend toward divorce – there is debate over the divorce rate for marriages in America. The numbers themselves are subject to many different cultural considerations – some couples simply don’t marry, others never end in an official legal separation, couples with children may stay together “for the sake of the kids” – whatever the reasons and unique situations, though, it is safe to say that family relationships are not healthy and intact.
The spiritual aspects of Celtic Advent that involves introspection and preparation have overlap in the impact on familial relationships. When I being to ask my self questions like, “What barriers exist in my relationship with God?” and when I understand that my relationship with God is impacted by my relationships with others – I begin to see room for improvement. Recall the young man who comes to Jesus with his question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Matthew 19). It is no accident that this narrative comes in a space in Matthew’s gospel that speaks about relationships. Chapter 19 opens with a word on divorce and then a story about children coming to Jesus before we get to the young man’s question. Unfortunately this young man grieves at Jesus’ answer – he had a lot of wealth and he didn’t want to give it up. I wonder if this young man knew the expert of the law found in Luke 10? The question of who is my neighbor? is one we are still asking today – with the refugee crisis and other world events, it can be a difficult space to try and work out our faith and an appropriate response.
But what about with family? How do they fit into consideration of neighbor or my relationship with God? The beauty of Celtic Advent as it relates to recovering family relationships is that it is a season fraught with intentionality. When I am intentionally trying to create space for God and reflecting on my relationship with Him, it can lead me to consider my relationships with others (since these are divinely tied to my relationship with God). This attention to our familial relationships needs to also consider another important cultural influence: the space in which we interact as families.
Celtic Advent: Recovering Sacred Space
In the Western world, a common family gathering is often punctuated by an increasing phenomenon – I call “iPhone masterbation.” The younger generation has already garnered the moniker as “the look down generation” given the propensity to have eyes and attention glued to the small screen that sits in their hand. The mindless and endless scrolling and tapping of the digital device has made people unable to be present with people that are sitting right across the table or the room – instead, they feel that they must be present with a disembodied reality. What’s going on with Facebook? What’s the latest on Twitter? What pic did my friend post on Instagram? What text message did I just receive? Oh, I need to respond to this!
American families also face another strange cultural phenomenon around this time of year – we anticipate the Black Friday holiday. This new day is already beginning to cement its place in American lore and tradition. It has nearly eclipsed and replaced Thanksgiving Day as family members feast and gorge in record time. Attention is then turned to endless clippings and advertisements and email specials, driving hundreds of miles, and standing for hours in line to lay some claim to consumer deals and specials that are “only” available that evening (or even that day) and into the early morning hours of Friday. For a fractured society, Black Friday and its bleed over into Thanksgiving has meant that our American consumer culture has a new “high holiday” and the rift continues to grow.
When we observe Celtic Advent, something happens to change all of this. When I begin, with my family to start to consider “making room” for Christ on November 15th I feel that I can somehow get out in front of the cultural tidal wave. I can begin to implement with my children and my wife, a rhythm and pattern that is resistant to the cultural consumerism and seasonal busyness that seems to suck the life out of so many souls. Practically speaking, we must begin to prepare for the journey – much like the magi of old. There are things that we must simply say “no” to. There is a way that we must carry only what is necessary, only what is good. We must make space for God and not fall to the temptation of filling that space with something lesser.
This task is not easy – to say “no” takes discipline. It means that we may face some criticism. It means that we may be misunderstood. It might mean that we have to look up from our screens and actually look that family member that we are at odds with, in the eye. It might mean that we have to carry a spirit of thankfulness instead of a spirit of selfishness.
Here’s an idea: create a “screen-free” zone. Or what about shutting down the wi-fi? Have a basket and gently collect everyone’s tether. Maybe have some appointed times to allow people to “drink the addictive iWhatever ‘kool-aid,'” but then reign it in again. Bring out the traditional board games. Go outside and play a game of kickball or host a “Turkey Bowl” football game or soccer game. Play Tiddly-Winks. Begin reading the Christmas narrative. Develop some new traditions which appropriately connect family and friends. Be present. Recover the sacred space of family.
Rev. Brad Kenney