Entering Advent 2013 Reflections

Waiting is a dominant Advent theme 

"Life is a constant Advent season: 
we are continually waiting to become, to discover, to complete, to fulfill. 

Hope, struggle, fear, expectation and fulfillment are all part of our Advent experience.
The world is not as just, not as loving, not as whole as we know it can and should be. 

But the coming of Christ and his presence among us—as one of us—
gives us reason to live in hope:
that light will shatter the darkness,
that we can be liberated from our fears and prejudices,
that we are never alone or abandoned.

May this Advent season be a time for bringing
hope, transformation and fulfillment into the Advent of our lives."

from Seed Sown, Reflections on the Sunday Lectionary Reading by Jay Cormier

Entering Advent

In this address given in 2012, Fr. Michael Sweeney, OP, invites us to make Advent a time of reflection and preparation for the coming of Jesus at Christmas. Fr. Michael’s chief interest is the mission of the Church to the world. As Presid ent of the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology at Berkeley, USA, he has positioned the School to better engage contemporary culture and to serve more effectively as a philosophical and theological resource for the Church and the world.

Extract below On The Liturgical Year by Joan Chittister

"When all the feasts have been celebrated and all the prayers are said and done, the strength and power of the liturgical year does not lie in its cataloging of feast days and seasons, as important as these are.  Nor does it lie in its rubrics and rituals.  The real power of the liturgical year is its spiritual capacity to touch and plumb the depths of the human experience, to stir the human heart.  

By walking the way of the life of Jesus, by moving into the experience of Jesus, we discover the meaning of our own experiences, the undercurrent of our own emotions, the struggle it takes to go on walking the way.

By taking us into the depth of what it means to be a human on the way to God — to suffer and to wonder, to know abandonment and false support, to believe and to doubt — the liturgical year breaks us open to the divine.  It gives us the energy to become the fullness of ourselves.  It makes the next step possible.  It calms us as we stumble from one to the other.  It leads us beyond our present selves to the self that lies in wait for God.

The liturgical year does not begin at the heart of the Christian enterprise.  It does not immediately plunge us into the chaos of the Crucifixion or the giddy confusion of the Resurrection.  Instead, the year opens with Advent, the season that teaches us to wait for what is beyond the obvious.  It trains us to see what is behind the apparent. 

Advent makes us look for God in all those places we have, until now, ignored.
A friend recently gave me a textile wall-hanging from Peru that makes clear that the process of finding God in the small things of life is as profound as it is simple.

Image source

A pastoral scene of palm trees and rural lean-to's has been hand-stitched by peasant women, quilt-style, across the top of a felt banner.  Under it is a calendar of thirty small pockets, each of them filled with something we can’t see.  Every day until Christmas, we are invited to find the part of the scene that has been pocketed for that day and attach it to the scene above, one piece of handwoven cloth adhering to the other as we go.

Some of the pieces are of benign and beautiful things; some are not.  There are bumble bees and angels, wild animals and dry straw, a branch-laden peasant man and a weary-looking woman.  But there at the end of the days, as common as all the rest of the items in the scene, is the manger; the sign of the One who knows what life is like for us, who has mixed His own with ours.  Now, we can see, all our expectations have been worth it.

Advent is about learning to wait.  It is about not having to know exactly what is coming tomorrow, only that whatever it is, sometimes hard, sometimes uplifting, all are signs of the work of God alive in us.  We are becoming as we go.  We learn in Advent to stay in the present, knowing that only the present well lived can possibly lead us to the fullness of life.

Life is not meant to be escaped, we learn, as the liturgical year moves from season to season, from feast to feast.  It is meant to be penetrated, to be plumbed to its depths, to be tasted and savored and bring us to realize that the God who created us is with us yet.  Life, we come eventually to know, is an exercise in transformation, the mechanics of which take a lifetime of practice, of patience, of slow, slow growth.

Clearly, then, learning to wait is an essential dimension of spiritual development.  It has its own values, bringing its own character to the process of becoming spiritually mature.

Waiting hones our insights.  It gives us the time and space, the perspective and patience that enable us to discriminate between the good, the better, and the best.  It is so simple to go through life blind to the wealth of its parts, swallowing life whole, oblivious to its punctuation points.  Then we fail to call ourselves to the small, daily demands of compassion or choice, trust or effort.  

If we do not learn to wait, we can allow ourselves to assume that one thing really is as good for us as another.  Then we forget that life is about more than this life.  We race over the top of it, satiating ourselves with the obvious, unmindful of its depths.  We become stale of soul.  We fail to grow spiritually.

It is waiting that attunes us to the invisible in a highly material world. 
In contemporary society, what counts is what we can get and what we have.  Instead of listening for the voice of God in the winds of change around us, we can come to hear only our own.

The function of Advent is to remind us what we’re waiting for as we go through life, when we are too busy with things that do not matter to remember the things that do.  When year after year we hear the same scriptures and the same hymns of longing for the life to come, of which this one is only its shadow, it becomes impossible to forget the refrains of the soul.

Advent relieves us of our commitment to the frenetic in a fast-paced world.  It slows us down.  It makes us think.  It makes us look beyond today to the “great tomorrow” of life.

 Without Advent, moved only by the race to nowhere that exhausts the world around us, we could be so frantic with trying to consume and control this life that we fail to develop within ourselves a taste for the spirit, a taste for the spirit that does not die and will not slip through our fingers like melted snow.

It is while waiting for the coming of the reign of God, Advent after Advent, that we come to realize that its coming does not depend on us, but what we do will either hasten or slow, sharpen or dim our own commitment to do our part to welcome it.

Waiting — that cold, dry period of life when nothing seems to be enough and something else beckons within us — is the grace that Advent comes to bring.  It stands before us, within us, pointing to the star for which the wise ones from the East are only icons of ourselves.

We all want something more.  Advent asks the question, what is it for which you are spending your life?  What is the star you are following now?  And where is that star in its present radiance in your life leading you?  Is it a place that is really comprehensive enough to equal the breadth of the human soul? "

For myself, Advent is always a time to let God into our imaginations - the definition of the process of imagining, being the ability of the mind to be creative and resourceful; The imagination of a child is truly a wonder to behold at this time, despite the often deadening and banal commercialism of the season we find ourselves in. 

Walter Brueggeman wrote, "The key pathology of our time, which seduces us all, is the reduction of the imagination so that we are too numbed, satiated and co-opted to do serious imaginative work" (Brueggeman, Interpretation and Obedience.)

Prayers for Advent 

Blessed be the longing that brought you here
And quickens your soul with wonder.

May you have the courage to listen to the voice of desire
That disturbs you when you have settled for something safe.

May you have the wisdom to enter generously into your own unease
To discover the new direction your longing wants you to take.

May the forms of your belonging–in love, creativity, and friendship–
Be equal to the grandeur and the call of your soul.

May the one you long for long for you.

May your dreams gradually reveal the destination of your desire.

May a secret Providence guide your thought and nurture your feeling.

May your mind inhabit your life with the sureness with which your body inhabits the world.

May your heart never be haunted by ghost structures of old damage.

May you come to accept your longing as divine urgency.

May you know the urgency with which God longs for you.

~John O’Donohue, from To Bless the Space Between Us

This is a great prayer from Wild Goose Worship group.
It comes from from their Advent, Christmas and Epiphany book, 

Open Our Eyes, Lord

Open our eyes, Lord
especially if they are half-shut
because we are tired of looking
or half-open
because we fear to see too much
or bleared with tears
because yesterday and today and tomorrow
are filled with the same pain
or contracted
because we only look at what we want to see

Open our eyes, Lord
to gently scan the life we lead
The home we have
The world we inhabit
and so to find
among the gremlins and the greyness
signs of hope we can fasten on and be encouraged by

Give us, whose eyes are dimmed by familiarity
a bigger vision of what you can do
even with hopeless causes and lost causes
and people of limited ability

Show us the world as in your sight
riddled by debt, deceit and disbelief
yet also
shot through with possibility
for recovery, renewal, redemption

And lest we fail to distinguish vision from fantasy,
today, tomorrow, this week,
open our eyes to one person
or one place
where we, being even for a moment prophetic,
 might identify
and wean a potential in the waiting

And with all this,
open our eyes, in yearning, for Jesus

On the mountains
in the cities
through the corridors of power
and streets of despair
to help, to heal
to confront, to convert
O come, O come, Emmanuel 

 God of the watching ones,
give us Your benediction.
God of the waiting ones,
give us Your good word for our souls.

 God of the watching ones,
the waiting ones,
the slow and suffering ones,
give us Your benediction,
Your good word for our souls,
that we might rest.

God of the watching ones,
the waiting ones,
the slow and suffering ones,
and of the angels in heaven,
and of the child in the womb,
 give us Your benediction,
Your good word for our souls,
that we might rest and rise
in the kindness of Your company.

An evening prayer for blessing during Advent, from Celtic Daily Prayer, 
The Northumbria Community, Collins, 2000

 Quote below by Frederick Buechner, from Secrets in the Dark.
"We labour to be born. All the little we have in us of holiness labours for breath, strains to be delivered of darkness into light. It is the secret, inner battle of every one of us.
And through all our labouring, God also labours: to deliver what is whole in us from what is broken, to deliver what is true in us from what is false, until in the end we reach the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, Paul says—until in the end we become Christ ourselves, no less than that: Christs to each other and Christs to God.
No one ever said it was going to be easy to turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse. “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” the great voice sings (Matt. 5:48). Be holy. Be healed. Be human. Because the light shines forth in the darkness, giving power to us all to become children of God.
But every time that voice rings out, we answer with the voice of our own littleness, our own earthboundness, that such things are too wonderful for us, that the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, that we can will what is right but cannot bring it about.
It is no easy matter to save us when half the time we don’t even want to be saved because we are so at home in the darkness that is home. We none of us come to the end of our days with the saving more than a fraction done at best. But, praise God, the end of our days is not the end of us.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it,” the great voice calls out; and with this life behind us, we move on through realms of mystery and mercy and new life beyond our power to imagine until at last, through the cloddish and reluctant flesh of all of us, the Almighty God of His Grace will speak again in a different tongue and to a lesser but unthinkably significant end, the Word that was once made flesh and dwelt among us, from whose fullness we have all received.
Behold the Lamb of God who gives and takes away."

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