Advent 4’s theme is “Oh, that you would reveal your love.” My reflections on this theme are based on a recent exposure I had to subliminal Old Order Mennonite courtship practices. Last Sunday evening I was privileged to participate in the young adult “singing” of Manitoba’s Old Order community. This singing activity is as significant for its promotion of courtship as it is for its musical praise of our Lord and Saviour. It does reveal both kinds of love.
When I arrived with my husband, the young women were already there and had eaten supper together. They had either driven their family’s buggy themselves; buggies like the one pictured here, or, had been dropped off by a member of their families.
On this particular evening, the men’s arrival was delayed by the need to chase down and capture some calves that had bolted out of a barn when frightened by melting snow sliding off of the barn’s tin roof. Because of this, some of the men arrived on horseback, apologized for the animal smells they had brought in with them, washed up, and sat down to their part of wholesome meal of which the women had already partaken. The men then retired into the parlour for conversation while the young women washed up the dishes.
The young man who was officially courting missed out on supper. He and his brother needed to head home first so they could arrive with the buggy he needed to drive his girlfriend home from the singing. I think he took time to scrub up as well.
At the singing, where many traditional and gospel songs were sung energetically and in harmony, the delayed arrival and extra scrubbing of this man were the only hints I picked up that this man was courting one of the young women. If their love was being revealed to the others, the signs were too subliminal for me to notice. After they’d sung for over an hour, the men retired into the parlour again and the young women lined up. At this point, the girlfriend alerted me to watch for the sign of their budding relationship; “Watch for the man who doesn’t say farewell by shaking my hand; he’s the one who will be taking me home and visiting me there.” Sure enough, there it was, the quick, slight smile instead of a handshake.
And then, she was the first of the women to bundle up and walk into the darkness anticipating the buggy ride and visit. That was it; the public signs of their budding love.
As I reflect on this culture, so different from my own, it makes me ponder. We have become public and free with our courtship practices and continuing affection for our partners, but at the same time, we have become increasingly private about expressing our love for God. I wonder if the signs of our relationship with God have become as subliminal as their displays of romance.
Thankfully, God’s love is revealed to both cultures in ways that are not limited by our cultural practices, and is equally at home in both settings. This week’s prayer ritual in my Advent At-Home booklet picks up that theme. Here are a few excerpts:
Leader: Loving God, we are so glad that you want to be at home with us and that your love helps people not be lonely.
Candle lighter: We light this fourth Advent candle to remember that God loves and lives with the poor. Help us to be at home with and share your great big love as well. Amen.
May you be blessed with revelations of God’s great big love as you nurture relationships of affection, subliminally or freely.