Living Light


erin thomas -living light3By Erin Thomas | Twitter: @erinthomas_123

I woke up this morning with a fresh new blanket of white covering the forest. I pulled back the curtain so I could take in the wonderland from the warmth of my bed. The rest of me cringed with how cold Bombadil House was, and how far my bed was from the little wood stove on the other side of the room.

I live in a one room cabin in the middle of the forest. Other than a small, aged solar panel, I have no electricity, no running water, and all heat is generated from that little wood stove. So far, I’ve been able to live fairly well up until -15°C, but we all know Alberta winters can plunge well below that. The coldest challenge is yet to come.

As I curled up in my hoodie, between blankets, trying to find a wayward sock that had fallen off during the night, I marveled at how little I truly needed to observe Advent and celebrate Christmas. The quiet, cold scene in front of me was more than enough for me to begin sifting through the deep distress and pain of Advent. The wintry light was the most powerful resource I could draw on to remember that light is shining in the darkness, and darkness has not overcome it.

Only the night before I was prepping a month-long Advent reflection for a small group. Using one of my favourite Advent books, I was surprised to discover that I was only moderately excited about actually sharing the material with other people. It wasn’t the material itself that was dragging me down or the people engaging it.

It was the pile of other resources sent to me via email, over Facebook, or through advertisements.

Everyone seems to have one, ten, or a thousand resources that have rocked their worlds, and everyone wants me to try them so my world can likewise be rocked. These are all shared with good intentions and, no doubt, with deeply lived experience of worlds being rocked. Yet as I began trying to investigate all of these Advent and Christmas resources, even in the spirit of sharing, I began to feel cheapened. I began to feel overwhelmed. I began to feel programmed. I felt myself losing focus. I felt myself falling back into the smorgasboard holiday mentality where I take a bit of everything to try it, but come away starving and gluttonous at the same time.

Sure, it would be nice to create a homemade Advent calendar that undermines an unethical supply chain system, but I live in a one room cabin; there is no room for an Advent calendar. Sure, it would be fabulous to stream podcasts that focus on the deeper meaning of the season, but I live without electricity and zero wifi; there is no capacity for streaming. Sure, it would be nice to check out all of these many, many books about Advent so I could determine for myself whether or not these words are truly worthy of rocking the world, but I live with a tiny amount of personal space; there is no room in the inn for excess.

These shared resources are leaving me claustrophobic.

I have no room for any of them. I have no room for anything except what is essential.

I’m living light. I have to.

In the necessity of leaning into the light and shadow of the physical world, I am made more acutely aware of the shadow and light of my interior world. Gorging on resources makes my spirit heavy rather than nourished. Not only that, but gorging prevents me from seeing my spirit’s light and shadow. If I’m always full of stuff, I don’t really have to deal with what’s truly here.

I wonder how many other women feel drowned during the holidays because of the over-abundance of resources? How many of us are burdened with the programs, the calendars, the practices, the books, the advice, the traditions, and the information?

This year I have no choice but to trim the trimmings right down—no lights, no calendars, no books, no tree, and scant decorations. As I live this lightness, I’m becoming more sensitive to the cries of the peoples of Advent. I’m also asking, “How long, O Lord,” and discovering the infinite depth of the Incarnation. No extra resources needed.

This year I am giving myself full permission to withdraw from resource sharing. Call it an Advent fast, if you will. Christmas has already been consumed by the an beast and, sadly, Advent is catching up. If I’m to practice divine time well, I need to carry on the lessons I’m learning living in the forest. Even the most profound of contemporary resources are not required for me to grow, learn, and be transformed.

As I strike a match to light a small fire that will warm my small space, my mantra for Advent—and for life—can truly now become:

“Live lightly.”


About Erin:

Erin ThomasErin Thomas is a Masters of Divinity student at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, intern hospital chaplain, and reluctant mystic. She’s also blogger, poet, and proud auntie to three adventuresome nephews. You can find her on FacebookTwitter and on her blog, Reluctant Mysticism.

  • Thank you for your words and your reminder … I love the sound of your cabin in the woods, although I would have a hard time with the cold. (I keep thinking about The Revenant—coldest movie ever. 🙂 )

    • Lol. I love being cooler rather than warmer. But I confess that on the colder days even I yearn for a home with a built-in furnace. Ahh, there are many lessons even in that I’m sure…

  • Helen

    Thank you for these words. I hadn’t really thought about the commercialisation of Advent but your thoughts really resonate.

    • Thanks Helen!

  • Kathleen Bertrand

    O yes!! Just yesterday I unsubscibed from the advent mailing lists I had signed up for. The content was deep and important but it was making me feel overwhelmed. I only made time to skim them in order to check it off my To Read list. So I let go. // Also I love this, “live lightly”!!

    • Good for you!

  • Love this, Erin! I can get caught up in trying everyone else’s amazing Advent resources. I’m learning to do what works for our family. And to change it up mid-stream, if necessary. You’ve given me permission to recalibrate.

    • Thanks Annie. Good to hear!

  • I’m so relieved to read your thoughts on the overwhelming abundance of Advent words, pages, podcasts, and posts. I could saturate my brain with other peoples’ ponderings, and in the process, drown out the voice of the Spirit.
    Blessings to you in your chilly cabin in the woods.

    • Thanks Michele!

  • Lisa Sands Scandrette

    I resonate with the overabundance of resources, both Advent and otherwise. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE books and words, but after having a period of being able to read voraciously, I wondered how I could possibly let so many words sink in and actually change me. I haven’t quite figured out how I’ll do it yet, but I am wanting to slow down and let words sit long enough to challenge and change me. The last month or so, it has meant one thing at a time in little doses. Thanks for sharing!

    • You’re welcome, Lisa!

  • Stacey Pardoe

    Erin, I’m absolutely drawn into your experience. I’m a woods girl currently living just outside a small town with my husband and two young children, and at least once a month, my heart aches to escape to a simpler life – a cabin in the woods without running water and no electricity. When our little family does step back for reprieve, we go to a cabin just like this, and we often pray God might lead us to an off-the-grid life, but he hasn’t yet. Thanks for sharing the simplicity of your experience and the deep kind of rest it brings. May we learn to step into this same rhythm, no matter where this Christmas finds us . . .