Advent is almost here. Advent is the first season of the Church Year, and the meaning of Advent is "coming." In this season we await the coming of Christ in his Nativity, and because his Nativity brings into visible form the grace and truth of God, we then are taught to wait upon God to renew all things in Christ.
Advent is about waiting. Waiting is really hard to do. That's because we're so easily and thoroughly distracted in the midst of our busy modern lives. My wife tried a little exercise with me that she learned recently, the result of which was to remind us both how difficult it is to remain in the moment before our attention skitters off in a new direction.
I read a perceptive article recently that describes a new form of business enterprise which tracks our mouse-clicks online and then markets our attention to other enterprises which then market to us. Our attention is being bought and sold all the time, because we are so restless and distracted. I am talking about myself here. I recently realized that this distraction was taking a toll on my peace of mind, so I radically limited my exposure to the internet.
Advent invites us to step out of this marketplace; to wait, to pay attention to our souls, to our yearnings, to our innate desire for the peace of mind that can only come in relationship to God, the ground of our being. How can we put aside distraction to wait?
A major difficulty for us is the spiritual training - or rather lack of it - that has shaped us. A lot of us really don't get yet that God regards us all with tender, fierce love. We've had too much shame. The last thing we may want is to be before God, because we don't trust God with our lives. We may think of God as one more being "out there" who is going to shame us and tell us we're "not doing it right."
This is sad, because the truth is quite the opposite. God is our constant lover. We are invited to be in the presence of God daily so that we can come to realize the truth discovered by generations of spiritual seekers and teachers, which is - as Fr. Thomas Keating has put it - that "the only thing God is asking of us is our consent to be loved."
This truth has been explored and celebrated in Fr. Chuck's class called "The Cure," for which I give thanks. This truth is practiced daily by many of your brothers and sisters at St. Paul's in their daily prayers and ministry activities, and weekly at the Contemplative Prayer Group. This truth is acted upon as our Alms Ministers meet, without judgment, the many people who come through our doors seeking some spiritual warmth and some practical help.
Advent is for waiting. What do you need to do to wait? Do you need the medicine God's love for your harried soul? Do you need to get encouragement from the clergy or a trusted spiritual friend? Do you need to set aside a daily time to say the "Our Father," to do a short form of prayer from the Book of Common Prayer or "Forward Day by Day?"
Are you ready to try silent contemplative prayer? There is a group that meets at 5:30 pm on Thursdays in Room B22 at St. Paul's. It helps to try this for the first time with others.
The practice of stillness and silence before the mystery of God is commended to us by Jesus himself, who taught us to go into our room and close the door and pray to our Father who is in secret. (Matthew 6:6) A child can do this naturally, and the World Community for Christian Meditation facilitates the teaching of Christian meditation to children. Their newsletter reports the observation of one child, who said that "after meditation we look out for each other more."* And there's the fruit of meditation: being able to demonstrate love more fully. And doesn't the world need that?
What do you need to do to help yourself wait, so that you might find out for yourself the truth of the Proper Preface for Advent that you will hear at the Eucharist each Sunday of Advent, which is that "we may without shame or fear rejoice to behold Christ's appearing?"
Yours for a blessed Advent:
*"Hope for the Future: Meditation in Schools," in Meditatio: Newsletter of the World Community for Christian Meditation. Vol 40, No. 3; October 2016.