Watching and Waiting: Advent in Carmel

Watching and Waiting

To experience Advent in Carmel is to enter into a rarified atmosphere that is filled to the brim with Carmel’s living legacy of Advent customs and observances. My first Advent in Carmel remains fresh in my memory today, still as vibrant and alive as when it happened. I feel at a loss, however, to write about it. What words can do justice to a wordless experience?

Well, the most I can do is try my best. So here it is.

To begin with, I’d like to describe what Advent in Carmel is not. It is not playing Christmas music or standing in a long line on Black Friday for the best deals. It is definitely not maxing out a credit card for the many Christmas gifts to be bought and wrapped. It is not listening to commercials assuring us that we really do need whatever each subsequent commercial is offering. It is not a plethora of Christmas parties or expected social evenings with friends. I suppose it suffices to say that Advent in Carmel is not of this world.

Advent is the period time of time right before Christmas – four weeks of waiting in expectation for the coming of the Messiah. Being of Irish descent, I would like to borrow a word from the Gaelic which means “soft” or “gentle.” This word would describe Advent as a soft time of a gently subdued ambiance filled with the expectant desires as each person waits personally and all of us wait together for the coming of the Messiah. It is as if we sit by the window and pull back the curtain just enough to peek out in the sure knowledge that Christ will be walking toward us soon.

This is a good image of Advent in Carmel. To sit quietly at the window, to pull back the curtain and to begin and continue a four week wait right there – close to the window, waiting for Christ. Advent in Carmel is Christo-centric, which means that it is centered in Christ. We listen once again to the ancient prophecies foretelling His coming. As we chant the Divine Office morning, early evening, and at night, we hear the ancient psalms prepare us anew for the Christmas mystery.

Each year, we go deeper into the Mystery.

If you would speak with our sisters personally, you would find out that for many of us, Advent is our favorite time of the entire year.

As winter begins to settle on the horizon and inch its way closer to sunny California, Carmelites settle into a meditative frame of mind. We read the prophets, listen to spiritual CDs of the season, and contemplate the sacred mysteries. Because we almost never watch television, we breathe the fresh air of freedom from commercialism. It is so very invigorating. We exhilarate in a new freedom, where life itself moves at a slower pace and the life itself is conducive to going deeper into the Mystery.

We look forward to learning both the ancient chants and the best of our contemporary music. And our hearts are stirred once again as we sing of His coming. Marana tha! When I first entered, it was very different for me to quiet down – both interiorly and exteriorly. This becomes second-nature to someone who has been in the convent for a period of time. And there is something about the silent watching that matures us spiritually. It effects a new depth to our relationship with God and with others.

Waiting and watching.

These words describe Advent in Carmel.

Waiting and watching.

As Advent draws to a close, we re-enact the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem in the beautiful custom of Las Posadas. For many of us this is the pinnacle of the season.

But that’s another story for a later time.


Art for this post on Advent in Carmel: Shield for the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles, all rights reserved, used with permission. Adventkranz (liturgisch) (Advent wreath, liturgical), photographed by Andrea Schaufler, 2 December 2006, CCA-SA 3.0 Unported, Wikimedia Commons.

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