I can feel the tug of it stronger each day now.
The pull of those appetites which all the adverts for perfume, Christmassy food and designer knitwear want to pander to.
Every time I switch on the TV I’m just getting into the story line and that tug pulls me every 22 minutes – 25% of the running time devoted to interrupting my attention with calls to endlessly feed my appetites.
Buy more, eat more, look better, smell better.
And it’s not just shops. In the evenings, because it’s quicker than going to real shops, I end up on ebay, feeding appetites I didn’t even know I had – for soft jumpers, vintage jewellery and velvet chairs I can’t afford to buy, or even fit into my house.
Even though I reassure myself that at this time of year, most of my purchases are for other people, dreams of stuff and more stuff constantly fill my mind. My default is Amazon delivery dates, parcels left outside in the rain and the fake Christmassy smells from wreathes made of sickly dried fruit.
Cinnamon, baking, the pungency of fir trees, snow crunching under my dreamt-of new leather boots.
And all the time, in my professional life, I am trying to focus on preparing for the arrival of the baby in poverty and simplicity.
Perfume adds, fake movie snow, Christmas cake smells, silver glitter falling off cards. And the baby in poverty about to arrive in a manger. It is a difficult juxtaposition.
I continue with meditation, sampling different apps until I have used up all the free sessions, and then there appear adverts – on the app – this time for a monthly, yearly or better still, lifetime subscription to meditation, which represents, effectively, just more consumption.
The current app gives me a background of gently tricking water, birdsong, the perfect countryside scene, as I sit back to meditate, and reminds me that soon there will be adverts for summer holidays filling the TV screens; buy your way to peace and happiness, find personal equilibrium for half the recommended price.
At the end of my meditation session, I switch off the app, put the phone down and try to be quiet and still in perfect silence, being aware of myself in the eternal unchanging presence of God.
Because I believe in meditation but only as an aid to bring my body into stillness for prayer, and that’s when I notice my appetite.
I start to think about the purchases I have made, the parcels that have already come and the ones that might be late. What if that unusual T shirt doesn’t arrive in time from the US? Calamity. What if the coffee maker doesn’t do cappuccinos? Disaster.
Even though I want to sit in my emptiness, it feels wrong, my mind filling with consumption related plans: mentally check all my orders, later browse ebay pointlessly, watch some TV (more adverts) and string out pudding, coffee, cake and chocolate long into the evening, because it fills me up in winter, and because I can.
And I check myself.
Appetites work like this: the more you feed one, the more it grows. That’s why we have adverts – you didn’t know you needed x until you saw how sparkly/soft/pretty/delicious/fascinating/unusually helpful for making my intellectual life complete that particular object was.
Now you rather feel you’d like one. In fact you need one. And it might only be a small thing, like the new bestseller, or a blue lampshade, or the kitchen redecorated. But it’ll fill your mind nonetheless, until you have it.
And the baby comes in poverty, lying in a manger, because there was nothing better on offer. And because when you’re poor, the adverts are not really for you, at least not right now, but you take a loan anyway and end up paying Christmas back all year. Or not.
So those enormous tables groaning with food, the ones that give you the most amazing close ups of cheese slowly crumbling under the knife, hot butter sliding off a steaming crumpet, wine bubbles effervescing slo mo into a glass, that you nearly exclaim, ‘what they can do with cameras nowadays!!!’, instead make you think, ‘this is actually gratuitous’.
I mean there is even a supermarket advert about the love-life of carrots.
So in the parallel universe, the non consumption-soaked universe, the baby comes, and is presented with gifts by some wise men. I saw it in a shop window and it stopped me in my tracks. The wise men have never heard of Christmas, are not driven by appetites but by a desire to worship. And they come into the house (Jesus has been upgraded by then) and present their gifts, and look and look and look.
Essential in contemplation.
They understand the bare essentials of being before your God – you basically bring yourself and nothing else. After being in God’s presence you understand your emptiness and that you cannot fill it with consumption – even smart, mindfully aware, ethically sourced classy consumption (no tinsel).
The consumption bell curve – we need to eat and be sheltered but a great deal more and it works against wellbeing – has bottomed out for me already and it’s not even half way through Advent.
I pray to resist, and sit happily in emptiness, not forgetting the poor amongst whom God came, in vulnerability, in simplicity, not to consume but to set us free.