"In the midst of blue": An Advent reflection for 2021 from Bishop Gates


I am thinking about blue, a color of sadness.

In common parlance, blue is associated with sorrow and discouragement.  A blue mood is a gloomy mood.  In my childhood there was a popular song called “Love is Blue,” in which the singer pines for his departed sweetheart.  Curiously, though the song is entitled “Love is Blue,” its lyrics never say it’s the love that’s blue:  “Blue, blue, my world is blue / Blue is my world since I’m without you.”  It’s his life without love that is blue.

As we move through the season of Advent, towards Christmas, many of us are feeling blue.  So many things right now are occasions for sorrow and discouragement.  From global challenges to national scourges, from family crises to our own personal wounds, we are beset by endless sources of worry and dismay.  High on that list is our shared grief at the unimaginable loss of life to the ongoing pandemic, and the continuing restrictions which have dashed our hopes for a Christmas unlike the one we marked a year ago.  Blue is the color of melancholy and woe, and we are blue.

I am thinking about blue, a color of trust and serenity. 

In cognitive psychology, blue is described as a color of tranquility and peace.  Perhaps because it is the color of quiet pools of water and soothing waterfalls, blue is considered a sign of calm reliability. [i]  Businesses wishing to invoke an image of security use blue in their marketing and logos.  Some research shows that people are more productive in blue rooms.

Perhaps it is this quality of blue as a color of tranquility that characterizes its use in art.  In Percival Everett’s novel So Much Blue, the protagonist Kevin is a painter who wrestles with his use of the color.

“It was often pointed out that I avoided blue.  It was true.  I was uncomfortable with the color.  I could never control it.  It was nearly always a source of warmth in the underpainting, but it was never on the surface, never more than an idea on any work.  Regardless that blue was so likable, a color that so many loved or liked – I could not use it.  The color of trust, loyalty … blue was not mine.” [ii]

The painter Kevin’s past trauma and deeply held secrets prevent him from deploying the color of trust in his work – though in the unseen underlayer, its warmth could be found.  Blue is a color of tranquility and peace, and we yearn for this blue.

I am thinking about blue, a color of Advent.

I do not wish to go down the rabbit hole of liturgical debate.  Let me acknowledge right away that most of us learned that purple is the Advent color, and the vast majority of our churches use purple for their Advent adornment.  It is, after all, the color of repentance, and we are in a season when John the Baptist’s call for repentance is prominent.  Purple is also the color of royalty, and we are preparing to mark the birth of Jesus, the Prince of Peace and King of kings.  However, it is also true that blue has been used for centuries in some places in the world, and in Anglican circles especially.  Where blue is the Advent color, it underscores a mood of hopeful serenity, rather than penitence.  Blue is also associated by tradition with Mary, who is understood as prominent in a season that leads to the Nativity.

Both colors can lay claim to tradition and venerable custom.  This year, I have found myself unusually drawn more to the blue.  Perhaps that’s on account of an essay I read which said this: 

The deep blue of Advent highlights the expectant nature of the season, and of our faith.  Deep blue is the color of the clear, predawn sky, the color that covers the earth in the hour before the sun rises in the east.  Most of us are not looking at the sky at that hour – perhaps we’re still asleep, or too weary to notice it ….  Nonetheless, a deep, dark blue is the color that covers us in the dark, cold hours before the sun dawns.  Thus we use deep blue for Advent to shade the season with a hint of expectation and anticipation of the dawn of Christ.” [iii]

The days we are in are hard.  We are so discouraged.  We are so fatigued.  We are impatient with ourselves, and we are short with one another.  We are angry and bewildered that others do not see things that we think are patently obvious.  We are anxious about little things; we are anxious about big things.  We are unsure of the future.  Like the artist Kevin, you and I are uncertain that we can imagine the canvas of our life adorned with shades of blue – the color of tranquility, peace, and trust – because those things are in very short supply these days.  But by God’s grace, that trustworthy, reliable blue is always present for us – as it was for Kevin – in the warmth of our underpainting.  That foundational layer, the base upon which everything else gets painted and overlaid – that foundation is the utterly dependable presence and love of God.  That deep and dependable blue resides with its warmth and tranquility in our own “underpainting.”  Beneath our every anxious moment, our every spasm of despair, our every sense of inadequacy, lies that pre-dawn blue of faithful expectancy.

In Advent we wait with subdued anticipation for the message of Christmas.  We wait to be reminded once again that Christ is born; that God’s love has been made flesh; and that God’s Incarnation is truly a reality – in us, through us, for us, and with us.  We wait to hear Zechariah’s prophetic song once more:  “In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us.” [Luke 1:78]

Melancholy blue we may feel within, oh yes.  But that deep, trustworthy blue surrounds us like the late night sky, in which a dazzling star once appeared.  That deep, dark blue covers us in the dark, cold hours, “the last color the eye sees before the sunlight returns.” [iv]

Dear friends:  May that dawn from on high break upon you in the midst of your own deep blue.  Advent blessings to you.

--The Rt. Rev. Alan M. Gates