The yellow in the leaves and the slant of light across the angel statue in my meditation garden tell me that fall is indeed falling. Those light, bright days have given way to a darkness and a chill that begins to seep into every corner of my house. Little wonder, then, that November marks the end of the liturgical year. Autumn really does feel more like an ending time to me than December 31, when the days are already growing brighter, second by second. November is the month when everything seems to be sinking into a darkness that may never end, a winter that might just last forever.
So let me share with you what I do as a spiritual exercise during these dark days. It may not be what you choose to do, and that’s okay. We all have to find a way to bring our faith into daily life in a way that resonates deep in our own souls.
For me, November is a time for me to end things. It’s not necessarily a time for new beginnings, although that can happen, but it’s time to shut doors and consciously, deliberately create closure in certain areas of my life. Sometimes the need for closure comes from external sources, and sometimes it is generated from within.
Let me explain these two types of closure a bit. The first comes from a change that is thrust on us. Because November begins the holiday season, both commercially and liturgically, I find it tempting to want things to be done exactly as they have in the past. I like the same foods, the same songs, the same traditions. However, like it or not, change is inevitable, even within something as fixed as the liturgical year. For example, a new associate decides that the Advent wreath should be on the left side of the church instead of the right where it has been since Advent wreaths were invented. Just because there’s more room on the left and it works better during communion isn’t important, darn it! The Advent wreath has always been on the right!
The need to accept change might be something more personal—your family has always had Thanksgiving dinner at your house, with your grandmother’s china. This year, you have a new daughter-in-law and she wants dinner at their house. And, no thank you, she doesn’t want you to bring over the china.
Regardless of the origin of the change, the decision is the same. You can rage against it, either externally or internally or, to use traditional Catholic language, you can offer it up. Most of the time, offering it up results in a spiritual growth stretch that ultimately is more beneficial than trying to cling to the past. After all, does it really matter where the Advent wreath is or what platter the turkey is served on?
I find the second kind of closure, the one that is generated from within me, the more difficult because it entails letting go, putting an end to certain beliefs, faults, judgments and behaviors that are not in alignment with my deepest values. The reason it’s such a challenge for me is because I often really like those beliefs, faults, judgments and behaviors! Let me share a minor example. I like coffee. I like its smell, its taste and its effects. However, I also know that drinking coffee gives me heartburn, makes me jittery and keeps me awake at night. And I know that when I have heartburn, am jittery and haven’t slept at night, I’m cranky, crabby and short-tempered. So, after thinking about it, I realized I had a choice. I could create closure on coffee—at least the caffeinated kind—or I could keep on doing what I have been doing.
Did I want to stop drinking my full-roast Kona coffee? Not particularly. Did it make me sad and even a little irritated to think about it? Absolutely. But deep down, I knew that giving up Kona coffee would have long-term benefits, not just physically, but spiritually as well.
That’s a simple example, but each November I try to take stock of life and see what I can let die with the end of the year—this year I’m facing the reality of my tendency to procrastination, my propensity to be critical and my belief that I’m almost always right. I may not be able to put full closure on all of those behaviors, but the first step is always to recognize the problem. Then, as the month of November continues, I will strive to make changes, even if they are small, to shut the door on these things, with the hope that when the Christmas season comes, and the promise brought by the birth of a child, I will be ready to welcome in some new and more spiritually beneficial behaviors instead.