Rituals and Reflections: What Third Grade Taught Me About Advent

By Jaime Zito

In the third grade, my favorite place in the world was my school library. I went to a small charter school, so all of the buildings were just “portables” and the library could only fit about ten bookcases, a small table, and a few bean bag chairs. Regardless of its size, that place held insurmountable adventure, worlds I could not have ever dreamed, and mystery beyond measure. It was in this place that I discovered an illustrated version of “The Nutcracker” that would become my Christmas tradition until I left the school. Since the library was so small, the books were rotated and not always available. Each year in late November, I would wait and hope and pray that the book was available for check out and then snatch it up as soon as possible. Every night, I would ask to put on Christmas music, turn off all the lights in the living room, and read by just the twinkling starlight that was our tree. It was a very long version, so I’m not sure I ever finished it, or even read the words for that matter, but the pictures were the most beautiful I had ever seen and wrapped me into a world of sounds, sights, and miracles that didn’t feel like it needed to be understood because it was perfect just to behold.

This was my Advent. A time of excitement, preparation, and waiting to be rewarded by unimaginable payoff, at least to my 7 year old self. For many, advent is their favorite time of year. Not only is it rich with traditions and rituals, but it is also a time of expectant waiting, both for the celebration of the birth of Christ and for the second coming. Advent begins the first Sunday after Thanksgiving and is a season of preparation and reflection; a time to re-immerse oneself in the beauty of the liturgical tradition. While there is so much depth in the stories of advent, it is also easy to overlook the minor characters of the season in favor of the well-known verses. Through the Vespers and All That Jazz advent series “Old Stories, New Stories,” we will use this season to explore minor characters of Advent who have revolutionary words for us. Through the Scripture of Isaiah and Luke, we will hear from Zechariah and Elizabeth, the angles, Anna and Simeon, as well as the unnamed children. By focusing attention on the margins of the story, we hope that vespers can connect with one of the most longstanding traditions of advent: that of giving hope to the oppressed. Just as the King born in a manger would give his heart and life for the marginalized, so we should give our ears to hear their stories.

Vespers & All That Jazz is an informal worship service, taking place every Sunday night from 6:30 to 7:15 at Wightman Chapel. Its contemplative nature makes it the ideal service to focus on and engage critically with the feelings of the Advent season. The musical experience of Vespers reminds me of the power of those illustrations. It brings me back to those elementary school feelings of being swept away into a different time and place, a place where I am free to use my imagination and hear beyond traditional interpretations. In a way, vespers is a type of “experiential learning.” The service draws you in to a space where you can be present with God instead of just telling you about such places. Advent is a season of sights, sounds, miracles, and hope; a season that should be experienced, not just talked about.

Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 1.20.47 PM Jaime Zito is a recent graduate of Denison University, who came to Scarritt Bennett Center because of her deep commitment to embodied spirituality. She is a Belle Harris Bennett Fellow, pursing a year of service and intentional living in order to help her discern what’s next and make the most of her past and future experiences. She is a certified liberal artist who enjoys religious studies, chemistry, and studio art, mainly printmaking and painting. Her passions include coffee, writing, and making sure everyone around her is having fun.