About five years ago, a coworker at Rehoboth Christian school recommended a beautiful Advent devotional to me: All Creation Waits by Gayle Boss. Shortly after, I read it to my middle school Science students as Earth turned past its equinox at the end of September. Each animal story, in its own way, helped us think about what it would be like, as an animal, to know that each day would be getting darker and colder, a bit at a time, for the next few months.
All Creation Waits features twenty-four animals from the northern Michigan ecosystem. Boss unveils their winter lives for us and in each brief story, we get to see how each animal lives through the winter and waits for the new life that returns with the sun’s light and warmth in the spring. Instead of filling our homes with the usual lights and trimmings that come with the Christmas chaos of December, these animals show us how to look for hope in the midst of darkness, hopefully waiting to see Advent promises filled full.
As I begin to read the first story, Painted Turtle, my students settle into their seats, colored pencils in hand, ready to sketch what they hear. This way of learning is intuitive to them, and they are eager for it. They know that turtle, rabbit, and fox are close kin.
My students and I live in the high desert ecosystem of northwest New Mexico, which is very different from Boss’ home in northern Michigan. Coyotes and foxes eat prickly pear if they can’t catch a desert cottontail, and beetles contentedly recycle their scat. Desert grasses provide food for innumerable birds and small mammals. Hummingbirds are looking for a variety of long-stemmed flowers. For desert animals, the struggle is as much about getting through the dry months as it is about getting through the cold months. Wherever you live, get to know the wild things around you. These wild things will give us peace, as Wendell Berry says, when we fear the future.
In All Creation Waits, our animal brothers and sisters teach us a variety of healthy ways to approach darkness without fear, with quietude and calmness, trusting that sunlight and warmth will eventually return. Humans tend to ignore the darkness, marching onward as if nothing has changed. Animals aren’t foolish enough to do such a thing. They know they’d die if they ignored the winters of life. Fleming Rutledge speaks to this truth in her book, Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ. She writes, “The disappointment, brokenness, suffering, and pain that characterize life in the present world is held in dynamic tension with the promise of future glory that is yet to come. In that Advent tension, the church lives its life.”
In Boss’ book, the scarcity and cold that characterizes the lives of animals in the peak of winter is held in tension with the promise that the sun will begin to shine more each day, that the snow will melt, spring ephemerals will bloom, trees will bud, and bugs will emerge. Animals are one guide God gives us to see how to live in that tension without fear.
All Creation Waits is similar to the biblical book of Esther in that there is no mention of God in the story. In Esther, evil threatens and is defeated. Vulnerable people are protected and exalted. Hope is vindicated. All the while, God’s hand is inconspicuous yet always present. Without naming the main character in the Advent story, Boss describes animals that survive because God has given them amazing biology and neurology. It might be glucose working as antifreeze in the cells of a wood frog, or a porcupine’s ability to digest bark. The chickadee’s hippocampus would be the envy of GoogleMaps, and garter snakes counterintuitively stop digesting as a way to save energy. The same wing muscles that bees use to cool the hive in the summer are used to warm it in the winter. While God is not explicitly mentioned throughout the book, our unnamed Creator is quietly waiting, providing, and acting on each page.
At Rehoboth, almost all of my students are Native American and most are Navajo. Winter is their season for storytelling and reading this book with them is a delight for them and me. I’ve learned that if there is any group of Americans that best gives witness to trusting the God of creation to uphold us through the darkest season of the year, it is our Native Americans. The one adjustment my colleagues and I make as we read it aloud to our students is changing the descriptor, “Indian Summer” in the Black Bear story to a more appropriate and accurate descriptor of the surprising warmth of a fall day.
In all, All Creation Waits is a beautiful book to read aloud as a family or in the classroom. If your life is such that you are keenly aware that darkness doesn’t only surround us in December, then keep a copy of All Creation Waits (or Boss’ other book, Wild Hope) near your favorite reading place and read it whenever you need some hopeful quiet. If you drive to school as a family, ask an older child to read a page while you drive. Read a segment when you are waiting to pick up your kid from therapy or soccer. These short stories will help you stay alert to the ways that God takes care of all creatures, including you, who wait through the darkness. You do not wait alone.