Happy Advent! I love, love, love this season for its sense of anticipation, and of course, I love its culmination in our Savior's birth! During my engagement, I can remember feeling so many similarities between preparing for Christmas and preparing for marriage--both are times of waiting, both can overwhelm you now and then, and both end in a gift of purest love.
There's a passage from Romans that I love. "We know," says Saint Paul, "all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved..." (8:22-24). At first glance, it might not seem like the sunniest verse (hello, he's talking about labor), but I can identify so deeply with the sense of longing that Paul expresses.
In the last few years, I've been incredibly blessed to develop a more in-depth understanding of the Theology of the Body. Attending a TOB retreat taught by Christopher West himself was such a gift to me. The retreat consisted of a 30-hour course entitled "Head and Heart Immersion," and I don't think it could be titled more aptly. During the retreat, I learned so much about the Theology of the Body beyond my very basic understanding, which certainly satisfied the "head" aspect, but it's been letting all that knowledge sink into me that's borne such amazing fruit.
The best thing I took away from the course was a greater awareness of the longings we all feel and what they indicate. Do you ever experience an ache so deep, for love or for belonging or for Heaven, that you can barely keep it together? Those are our labor pains; our desire for adoption as God's children. Everyone feels it, and when I consider the Ache in light of TOB, it makes so much sense. Of course we long for perfect love, long for something more, because it's what we're meant for. We're restless, just like Augustine says, because we won't rest completely until this life ends and our heavenly one begins. Every fulfillment on earth is just a taste of how the Father satisfies. It's something I love to think about, and I notice it everywhere, especially in music (Mumford and Son's "Awake My Soul?' King's of Leon's "Use Somebody?" My favorite, Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes?" Even Taylor Swift's "Love Story?" In the lyrics and vocals, you can hear them aching!).
I remember so clearly the particular aches of engagement. Every vocation brings the greatest fulfillment on earth to those whom it calls, but to me it seems that marriage does so in the most tangible way. Specifically, the love, forgiveness, and affirmation of your spouse has the power to bear the Father's love to us in such a real way--through another human being, body and soul. I so badly wanted physical proximity to Andrew while we dated long-distance, wanted to know what my life in a new town, in a new role as a wife, would be like, and wanted every part of a shared life. I'm sure I wasn't the only one. Having a chaste relationship was such a struggle sometimes. Lying in wait, full of longing...sounds like a season of Advent to me. Grace and mercy will carry you through.
Know this: that every desire you feel for your husband-to-be, emotional, rational, and yes, sexual, is so good and so holy. Chastity isn't about suppressing our desires, but orienting them in the right, most loving way at the right time. Abstinence ends in marriage (with the exception of periodic abstinence when practicing NFP), but chastity doesn't. All through your Advent, embrace the groaning. Give yourself permission to feel, to hope, and to be purified.
"In hope we were saved." Jesus' birth brings a thrill of hope; our ultimate hope, the perfect fulfillment of our desires, and new life.
I hope your first week of Advent is full of grace. Also, I'd love to start a few little traditions for the season, starting with a wreath, now that Andrew and I are our own little family (as in, just the two of us for now; this is not a baby announcement!)--what are yours?
P.S. The photo at the top is of a wonderful Nativity sculpture on my college campus--don't you love how peaceful Our Lady looks lying next to her son, and what a protector Joseph is?