Advent is a time of waiting, and of preparation. Of contemplation—of what is past, and what is to come. During Advent, we make wreaths, made of leaves or evergreens, with four candles, and we light one candle for each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas.
Today is the first Sunday of Advent. May your candle burn quiet in the dark, and may you be at peace.
[From OUTLANDER, Chapter 38, “The Abbey”.]
The monastery was quiet, in the way that all large institutions grow quiet at night; the rapid pulse of the day’s activities has dropped, but the heartbeat goes on, slower, softer, but unending. There is always someone awake, moving quietly through the halls, keeping watch, keeping things alive. And now it was my turn to join the watch.
The chapel was dark except for the burning of the red sanctuary lamp and a few of the clear white votive candles, flames rising straight in still air before the shadowed shrines of saints.
I followed Anselm down the short center aisle, genuflecting in his wake. The slight figure of Brother Bartolome knelt toward the front, head bowed. He didn’t turn at the faint noise of our entrance, but stayed motionless, bent in adoration.
The Sacrament itself was almost obscured by the magnificence of its container. The huge monstrance, a sunburst of gold more than a foot across, sat serenely on the altar. Guarding the humble bit of bread at its center.
Feeling somewhat awkward, I took the seat Anselm indicated, near the front of the chapel. The seats, ornately carved with angels, flowers, and demons, folded up against the wooden panels of the backing to allow easy passage in and out. I heard the faint creak of a lowered seat behind me, as Anselm found his place.
“But what shall I do?” I had asked him, voice lowered in respect of night and silence as we had approached the chapel.
“Nothing, _ma chère_,” he had replied, simply. “Only be.”
So I sat, listening to my own breathing, and the tiny sounds of a silent place; the inaudible things normally hidden in other sounds. The settling of stone, the creak of wood. The hissing of the tiny, unquenchable flames. A faint skitter of some small creature, wandered from its place into the home of majesty.
It was a peaceful place, I would grant Anselm that. In spite of my own fatigue and my worry over Jamie, I gradually felt myself relaxing, the tightness of my mind gently unwinding, like the relaxation of a clock spring. Strangely, I didn’t feel at all sleepy, despite the lateness of the hour and the strains of the last few days and weeks.
After all, I thought, what were days and weeks in the presence of eternity? And that’s what this was, to Anselm and Bartolome, to Ambrose, to all the monks, up to and including the formidable Abbot Alexander.
It was in a way a comforting idea; if there was all the time in the world, then the happenings of a given moment became less important. I could see, perhaps, how one could draw back a little, seek some respite in the contemplation of an endless Being, whatever one conceived its nature to be.
The red of the sanctuary lamp burned steadily, reflected in the smooth gold. The flames of the white candles before the statues of St. Giles and the Blessed Mother flickered and jumped occasionally, as the burning wicks yielded an occasional imperfection, a momentary sputter of wax or moisture. But the red lamp burned serene, with no unseemly waver to betray its light.
And if there was eternity, or even the idea of it, then perhaps Anselm was right; all things were possible. And all love? I wondered. I had loved Frank; I still did. And I loved Jamie, more than my own life. But bound in the limits of time and flesh, I could not keep them both. Beyond, perhaps? Was there a place where time no longer existed, or where it stopped? Anselm thought so. A place where all things were possible. And none were necessary.
And was there love there? Beyond the limits of flesh and time, was all love possible? Was it necessary?
The voice of my thoughts seemed to be Uncle Lamb’s. My family, and all I knew of love as a child. A man who had never spoken love to me, who had never needed to, for I knew he loved me, as surely as I knew I lived. For where all love is, the speaking is unnecessary. It is all. It is undying. And it is enough.
Time passed without my awareness of it, and I was startled by the sudden appearance of Anselm before me, coming through the small door near the altar. Surely he had been sitting behind me? I glanced behind, to see one of the young monks whose name I didn’t know genuflecting near the rear entrance. Anselm bowed low before the altar, then motioned to me with a nod toward the door.
“You left,” I said, once outside the chapel. “But I thought you weren’t supposed to leave the, er, the Sacrament, alone?”
He smiled tranquilly. “I didn’t _ma chère¬_. You were there.”
I repressed the urge to argue that I didn’t count. After all, I supposed, there was no such thing as a Qualified Official Adorer. You only had to be human, and I imagined I was still that, though I barely felt it at times.
Jamie’s candle still burned as I passed his door, and I caught the rustle of turning pages. I would have stopped, but Anselm, went on, to leave me at the door of my own chamber. I paused there to bid him good night, and to thank for taking me to the chapel.
“It was…restful,” I said, struggling to find the right word.
He nodded, watching me. “Oui, madame. It is.” As I turned to go, he said, “I told you that the Blessed Sacrament was not alone, for you were there. But what of you _ma chère_? Were you alone?”
I stopped, and looked at him for a moment before answering.
“No,” I said. “I wasn’t.”