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By 
Gayle Boss
 on December 02, 2022

Creation Waits With Us

For author Gayle Boss, Christian liturgy at its best moves in step with creation. She invites us to join with creation this season, in slowing down and waiting.

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Bird on a red rose branch in the winter snow

istockphoto.com/Ondrej Prosicky

This is an adaptation of the introduction and first chapter of All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings by Gayle Boss. For each day of Advent, All Creation Waits opens a window onto the world of an animal amazingly, ingeniously adapting when darkness and cold descend. The animals show us in twenty-five different ways the deep mystery and abiding truth at the heart of the Christ story: The dark is not an end, but the way a new beginning comes. Twenty-five original woodcuts by award-winning illustrator David G. Klein convey the beauty of each creature.

“Every single creature is full of God

and is a book about God.

Every creature is a word of God.

If I spent enough time with the tiniest creature—

even a caterpillar—

I would never have to prepare a sermon. So full of God

is every creature.”

Meister Eckhart, c.1260–c.1328, German theologian, philosopher, mystic

Christian liturgy at its best moves in step with creation. Here at the end of the calendar year when, in the northern hemisphere, the sun’s light and heat wane, the natural world lets lushness fall away. It strips down. All energy is directed to the essentials that ensure survival. And the Church gives us Advent.

Large sections of the stream of Advent’s history lie below the surface, but we know that leaders of the seventh-century Western Church were responding in part to the fears of their congregants. If we’re honest, we know their fears.

When these early agricultural people had harvested their crops and stacked food in their larders, they gave a collective sigh of relief. Their long days in the fields were over. For their labor they had heaps of fruits, vegetables, grains, and meat. The group body called out, Feast!

At the same time, no matter how glad the party, they couldn’t keep from glancing at the sky. Their growing season was over because the sun had retreated too far south to keep the crops alive. Each day of the fall, they watched the light dwindle, felt the warmth weaken. It made them anxious, edgy. Throughout December, as the sun sank and sank to its lowest point on their horizon, they felt the shadow of primal fear—fear for survival—crouching over them. They were feasting, and they were fearful, both. When they had eaten up the crop they were feasting on, how would another crop grow? Yes, last year the sun had returned to their sky. But what if, this year, it didn’t? Despite their collective memory, people wedded, bodily, to the earth couldn’t help but ask the question. Their bodies, in the present tense, asked the question.

Farm in the winter with snow at sundown

istockphoto.com/hauged

To be sure, some part of “the holiday season” is celebration of the harvest, for us, as it was for our ancestors, even if we don’t personally harvest crops…But for us also, as for our ancestors, the dark end of the year brings unrest. It is an end. It comes without our asking and makes plain how little of life’s course we control.


Our bodies still ask that question. In December the dark and cold deepen, and our rational minds dismiss it as nothing. We know that on December 21, the winter solstice, the sun will begin its return to our sky. But our animal bodies react with dis-ease. The light—life—is going. Some of us sink into a seasonal depression. Some of us cope by seizing distractions the marketplace gleefully offers: shopping, parties, more shopping.

To be sure, some part of “the holiday season” is celebration of the harvest, for us, as it was for our ancestors, even if we don’t personally harvest crops. We throw a party to mark the end of another year, sometimes with glad gratitude, often as incantation for a better year to come. We do this in a big, bright, loud way. But for us also, as for our ancestors, the dark end of the year brings unrest. It is an end. It comes without our asking and makes plain how little of life’s course we control. This uncertainty, we don’t know how to mark. And so it marks us. We feel weighted, gloomy even, and we feel guilty because voices everywhere sing out, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”

Uncertainty envelops all of us now, all year long. Global epidemics, Earth heaving under the cataclysms of climate change, eruptions of human violence—ironically, perhaps we in this technological century are coming to sense our powerlessness against death and loss as keenly as our medieval ancestors. With them, we feel that weight most heavily in the dark of year’s end.

Advent and new beginnings

The leaders of the early Church read the ebbing of light and life each year as a foreshadowing of the time when life as we know it will end completely. That it will end they sensed as pointedly as we, to whom it may seem more menacingly imminent. It rightly terrifies us. To their and our abiding fear of a dark ending the church spoke of an adventus, a coming. Faith proclaimed, When life as we know it goes, this year and at the end of all years, One comes, and comes bringing a new beginning.

Advent, to these church leaders, was the right naming of the season when light and life are fading. They urged the faithful to set aside four weeks to fast, give, and pray—all ways to strip down, to let the bared soul recall what it knows beneath its fear of the dark: that there is One who is the source of all life and is ever creating, One who comes to be with us and in us, even, especially, in darkness and death. One who brings a new beginning.

…there is One who is the source of all life and is ever creating, One who comes to be with us and in us, even, especially, in darkness and death. One who brings a new beginning.

Advent’s stripping practices—fasting, giving away, praying—usher us into the dance of all creatures living in the northern hemisphere in this season. We tune into the rhythms humming in the cells of all beings made of earth. We tune into our own essential rhythms.

We’re enveloped, though, in a culture fearful of loss in any form, a culture fervent on accumulation. To drown out the wisdom of Advent, of stripping down with other beings made of earth to prepare for a new beginning, it insists on a loud, long, extravagant “holiday season.”

Our creature-kin are here to help. “A word of God,” each of them, “a book about God,” all of them, they enact, in their responses to the dark and cold, the mystery at the heart of Advent: The dark is not an end, but a door. This is the way a new beginning comes.

Black and white drawing of a turtle from Gayle's Book "All Creation Waits"

Turtle image from All Creation Waits, illustrated by David G. Klein

Our creature-kin are here to help. “A word of God,” each of them, “a book about God,” all of them, they enact, in their responses to the dark and cold, the mystery at the heart of Advent: The dark is not an end, but a door. This is the way a new beginning comes.

Gayle Boss

Creation waits with us

Witness Painted Turtle. Spring through early fall she and a dozen or so of her pond mates basked, splay-legged on logs, stretching their leathery necks out full length, avid for every luscious atom of sunlight and sun-warmth.

Out of sight now, they’ve not escaped the harsher cold that’s coming.

The water is maybe waist-deep in the pond, but a murky soup, clogged with roots and plants. One day in the fall, as water and air cooled, at some precise temperature an ancient bell sounded in the turtle brain. A signal: Take a deep breath. Each creature slipped off her log and swam for the warmer muck bottom. Stroking her way through the woven walls of plant stems, she found her bottom place. She closed her eyes and dug into the mud. She buried herself.

And then, pulled into her shell, encased in darkness, she settled into a deep stillness. Her heart slowed—and slowed—almost to stopping. Her body temperature dropped—and stopped just short of freezing. Now, beneath a layer of mud, beneath the weight of frigid water and its skin of ice and skim of snow, everything in her has gone so still she doesn’t need to breathe. And anyway, the iced-over pond will soon be empty of oxygen. Sunk in its bottom-mud, for six months she will not draw air into her lungs. To survive a cold that would kill her, or slow her so that predators would kill her, she slows herself beyond breath in a place where breath is not possible.

To survive a cold that would kill her, or slow her so that predators would kill her, she slows herself beyond breath in a place where breath is not possible. And waits..the world will warm again, and with it, her life

And waits. As ice locks in the marsh water and howling squalls batter its reeds and brush, beneath it all she waits. It is her one work, and it is not easy. Oxygen depletion stresses every particle of her. Lactic acid pools in her bloodstream. Her muscles begin to burn—her heart muscle, too, a deadly sign. That acid has to be neutralized, and calcium is the element to do it. Out of her bones, then out of her shell, her body pulls calcium, slowly dissolving her structure, her shape, her strength. But to move to escape—requiring breath—in a place where there is no oxygen—that would suffocate her. So, though she is dissolving, every stressed particle of her stays focused on the silver bead of utter quietude.

It’s this radical simplicity that will save her. And deep within it, at the heart of her stillness, something she has no need to name, but something we might call trust: that one day, yes, the world will warm again, and with it, her life.

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About the author

Gayle Boss

Gayle Boss

Gayle Boss writes from West Michigan, where she was born and raised. The mother of two grown sons, she and her husband and their Welsh Corgi now live in Grand Rapids. Gayle is also the author of Wild Hope: Stories for Lent from the Vanishing. To learn more about her work, visit gayleboss.com.