Advent is a time to be wounded in spirit

Of my more than 30 books on Advent, one uniquely stands out. Wounded in Spirit — Advent Art and Meditations by David Bannon looks at the art of 25 artists, many of whom painted as a result of some deep grieving, often from some significant loss in their lives. Bannon is an art historian, a writer and a man who, tragically, lost his 26-year-old daughter to a heroin overdose in 2015. This book of art and Advent devotions arose out of his pain.

Advent is a season of waiting and longing and extends over the four Sundays prior to Christmas. Churches that celebrate Advent often cover themes such as peace, love, hope and joy. And that is good and proper.

In many churches that celebrate Advent, however, the first Sunday of Advent — this year November 29th — starts with the theme of “Longing.” The Advent theme centers on longing for the Lord to return and fully consummate his kingdom.

The verses often read are from Mark 1 where we read:

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way”—
“a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.’”

This was the message of John the Baptist, of course, and the idea for us is that we, too, long for the Messiah to return as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. We see the hurting world around us.

We see the pain around us. It bothers us and can make us long for the Lord to return. Thus, as we prepare our hearts during the first week of Advent, we cry out: “Prepare the way for the Lord.” We know his coming is imminent and we add this shout of worship: “Come Lord Jesus.”

The theme of longing is central in the 25 meditations by David Bannon. Bannon chooses a piece of art by the artist featured each day. The artists Bannon chooses usually are lesser known artists. I enjoyed being introduced to new artists and hearing some of their story, often a sad part.

In each accompanying devotional, Bannon usually tells how some tragedy or some deep sorrow in the life of the artist significantly affected how that artist approached life in general and painting specifically.

The well-known Christian writer Phillip Yancey writes a beautiful forward to Bannon’s book, a part of which reads:

Depression and suicides spike at Christmas, as loneliness and the memories of lost loved ones invade the background cheer. My own father died in mid-December, before his twenty-fourth birthday, an untimely death that forever cast a pall over our family’s Christmases. We know, all of us, the dissonance of which Simeon spoke to Mary, of love splattered with blood, of consolation that proves diffused and fleeting. Art brings that dissonance to the foreground, with a poignancy that wounds the spirit like a sword.”

Wounded in Spirit is a well-done hardbound book that I think you will enjoy owning. (You can give yourself an Advent gift.)

From talking with lots of people, I have discovered that most people never have thought about preparing for Christmas in this fashion. But given the year we have had with the coronavirus, the racial struggles in our land and the recent crazy and uncertain election season, I know a lot of you are exhausted and longing and hoping for something more.

I can almost guarantee you will be moved by the featured paintings and the thoughts of David Bannon as you prepare for Christmas. It will be good for your soul to prepare in this way, and I hope you’ll give it a try. (I got it off Amazon in just 2 days.)