I have been looking forward to Advent. This feels vaguely heretical, given that Advent itself is meant to be about looking forward. Looking forward to looking forward. Oh well, why not?
Advent starts tomorrow – tidily, this year, on the first of December, so everyone’s Advent calendar is right, for once. I find this pleasing, because this Advent is a particularly important one. For me, at least.
I moved to Surrey in the late autumn of 2007. The first service I ever attended at Holy Trinity, Guildford, was the Advent Carol Service: the beginning of six years growing in love, faith, confidence and vocal skill. This was the church, and Church, I needed, and I found it on Advent Sunday because I’d lost my sense of direction and couldn’t work out how to get to the cathedral. In fact, I count my time in Guildford from that Advent Sunday; I can’t remember now what the date was that I actually moved, but Advent Sunday is where it began.
My last 101 in 1001 list (now abandoned, but helpful in various ways beyond the scope of the project) began on Advent Sunday 2010. To be fair, this was deliberate, but I think it’s interesting that even back then I was already thinking in terms of Advent being a beginning.
On Monday I begin a new job in a new office. This is a huge step: after nearly four years finding my confidence, my motivation, my feet, I’m moving on, and – well, I’ll almost certainly address this at some point over the next few weeks, but I seem to have a career now. And so, by pure chance, the first working day of Advent sees me starting a whole new adventure.
An entirely frivolous reason to like Advent: purple is my favourite colour (except for when I prefer red). Also, I’m an alto, and for an alto things don’t get much better than This is the Record of John.
And so I’ve come to the conclusion that my year runs Advent to – well, the Saturday after Stir Up Sunday, or Christ the King, or whatever you like to call this. I have decided to go with this. New Year’s Eve is always a write-off in my family, because of our devotion to the cult of historical public transport meaning that we all go to bed early. New Year’s Day is spent riding around Winchester on a succession of incredibly chilly buses. Advent Sunday, by contrast, is candles and purple and Gibbons and Mendelssohn and expecting. Advent means more to me than changing the year on the calendar ever has.
This does not really make any difference to anything outside my own head. I’m not going to start wishing people a Happy New Year tomorrow, or anything like that, but I want to say this, now: my new year starts tomorrow.
I’m not ready for it to be the new year. I have three things that terrify me: the Record solo, the new job, and turning right off the AA roundabout when I cycle back from the station on Monday night. I’m not sure I’m ready for any of this.
That is rather the point. I am never ready for anything until I start doing it. Starting my year in December (or, next year, November) gives me a whole extra month to get ready.
My first month of the year is also the last month of the year and I am going to use it as a time of very gentle transition.
In previous years (mostly last year, but to a certain extent before that) I have devoted the week between Christmas and New Year to fairly serious introspection, reflecting on the year gone, and looking forward to the year ahead. Last year I also took part in the Reverb project through most of December. This has worked very well. This year has been unnumbered blessings and I have made enormous progress in all sorts of things. Some of this is no doubt due to other factors, but having set the compass eleven months ago, being able to look back at what I wrote last year, has been very helpful.
This year I’m going to do it again, but I’m going to move the timescale a bit. I will devote the first four weeks of December (in other words, Advent) to this reflection. Reverb 13 prompts have already started appearing. I’m not going to beat myself up if I start slipping: I know already that this is going to be a peculiarly hectic Advent, because: new job, longer commute, long-distance relationship, three works Christmas parties (two of mine, one of his) and all sorts.
On the other hand, this does leave the week after Christmas completely free. At the moment I’m not sure what to do with it. I might use it to catch up with things I fall behind on. I might not. I don’t know. At the moment, that’s as it should be.
Other things for Advent: Haphazard by Starlight. Advent candle. As of yesterday, chocolate Advent calendar from one of my lovely colleagues. The O Antiphons (one of my plans for an unspecified date in the future, When I Have Time, is to make a sort of wall-hanging that will have the O Antiphons unfold over the week before Christmas to gradually spell out ERO CRAS). Freedom for this all to crash and burn and for me not to do any of it if it doesn’t seem right.
But at the moment, I am looking forward to all of it. Alleluia.