A Few Thoughts Before Advent

As I try to make a start to think of creating space for Advent 2011, this time of year is always full of ambiguity and paradox.

It is a time that promises gifts but also asks me to give myself. 
It is also a time of new beginnings : the control-alt-delete of the past and the promise of starting all over.

 "So much of our time is preparation, so much is routine, and so much retrospect . . . It takes a good deal of time to eat or to sleep, or to earn a hundred dollars, and a very little time to entertain a hope and an insight which becomes the light of our life." 
Ralph Waldo Emerson

But there is also the trap I need to guard against : falling into being over- zealous and over - determined about blogging and the need to "do something for Advent" that sometimes strikes against the whole idea of preparation for what is essentially an unbidden gift.

The crass materialism of the season always gets to everyone every year so I am hoping to keep things even simpler this year as far as presents are concerned but there is also a lot of spiritual materialism, around too. 

The temptation to overspend on materials when looking for inspiration for Advent comes from a plethora of offerings : 

Books , videos, music, CD's, online courses and retreats : all expensive, all with that promising lure of enlightenment that I crave,but at least I can be grateful that they are not emblazoned in that hideous and ubiquitous pink colour.

I love books and I am always on the lookout for anything that helps but sometimes I need to step back and take stock and ask do I really need it or is this just another form of self indulgence.

Enlightenment doesn't come canned !

The liturgical year has almost set itself up as yet another demand to become plugged in and switched on to a pre-set timing just like the Christmas lights, and with an added need for a road map or I suppose that would be a high tech GPS for some, as if we are incapable of learning to read the stars to guide us on the path to Bethlehem.

 I am not sure what this Advent is asking of me but I want to try and make it less about my own timing and more about God's. The iconic theme of Christmas is of light coming into the darkness and I wonder how many Christmases have I actually been enlightened or just kidding myself...

But then we don't regard Thomas Edison as a failure, even though it took him 900 tries to get the light bulb right, so maybe this Christmas will be better.

It strikes me that these words from Fr.Richard Rohr seem a good place to begin:

"Contemplation is not first of all about being religious, introverted, or pious—it is about being emotionally and mentally honest! Contemplation is an alternative consciousness that refuses to IDENTIFY WITH or FEED what are only passing shows. 

It is the absolute opposite of addiction, consumerism, or any egoic consciousness.

Egoic consciousness is the one we all normally operate with, until we are told there is something else! Every culture teaches egoic consciousness, but just in different ways.  At that level it is all about me, my preferences, my choices, my needs, my desires, and me and my group as the central reference point. 

Most people do not even know there is another way of thinking or feeling.  It was religion's job to tell them about a different kind of “software,” and the original word for it was simply prayer

But even the concept and practice of prayer became captive to the voracious needs of the ego.  Even prayer became a way to get God to do what we wanted.  You know that is true!

So a lot of us started using the word contemplation so people might know we are talking about a totally different operating system, different software where the private self is not the center of attention and interpretation. 

This is the “grain of wheat” that Jesus says must die “or it remains just a grain of wheat.”  But if it dies, “it bears much fruit”! (John 12:24).  Mature and contemplative religion has always known that we need a whole new operating system, which Paul called “the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16) or a “spiritual revolution of the mind” (Ephesians 4:23).

Only with this new mind can we also develop a new heart, too, and a new emotional response to the moment.  When it is not all about me, as we learned on our initiation day (“YOUR LIFE IS NOT ABOUT YOU!”), we can see from a new, much deeper, and broader set of eyes. 

Very soon our responses are much less knee-jerk, predictable, and self-centered.  

Only contemplative prayer touches the deep unconscious, where all of our real hurts, motivations, and deepest visions lie.  Without it, we have what is even worse—religious egoic consciousness, which is even more defensive and offensive than usual! 

Now it has God on its side and is surely what Jesus means by the unforgiveable “sin against the Holy Spirit.”  It cannot be forgiven because this small self would never imagine it needs forgiveness.  It is smug and self-satisfied.

.......... We need to learn and practice this new mind or there will be no lasting initiation, no real change, no authentic encounter with ourselves, God, or anybody else. 

Find your own practice, and learn a new mind.  

Contemplation really is the change that changes everything." 
Text taken from here
Image of lightbulb by Andre Kutscherruer

I often think of Peter when I dwell on the not getting it right part - all the times he thought he had completely blown it, the times he knew he had failed dismally and then having given up in despair he goes out fishing, back to his routine old job that he knows so well to try and restore his self esteem.

The gospels tell us that Peter's first encounter with Christ came when he had been fishing all night  and had not caught anything. Jesus provided a miraculous catch of fish. 

That`s what so often happens when I am tempted to give up in despair and just seek my own comfort - I come up empty handed. But when I think of the times in my life this has happened I also think of how Jesus has shown up and I somehow have managed to catch maybe not a whole shoal like Peter,  but at least one fish !

So this Advent I am going to "set out for Bethlehem" with more of a child like confidence and trust and hope to "live more in the moment" with less anxiety and hope that I will get "there" in 40 days.

"Where are you on
your spiritual journey?"
you ask, your sharp eyes
thumbtacking the question
on my heart.

What can I say?
I am somewhere beyond "go"
I have not stopped.

Years have shown me
the idea of travelling
is a game we play with ourselves
to pretend we're not home.

Naomi Shihab Nye (b 1952)
Palestinian / American Poet

I pray God will show up to meet me along the way but I have to trust it will be in in God's own good time and not mine....

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