Advent is one of the shortest seasons in the church year, a time of hope, preparation, and waiting. Today most of us experience Advent as a busy season. We rush around getting ready for Christmas. But in the ancient church Advent was a time for slowing down. This season, could you take a break from the bustle, the consumerism, the pre-Christmas insanity? Could this season be one of prayer, breathing, and slowing down?
Maybe this year, more than most, we could use a good Advent. In the calendar of Bible readings we encounter stories and poems from a people in exile. The words of the prophets, even the words of Jesus’ mother Mary in the Magnificat, all of whom long for a country and a world where justice reigns and powerful rulers are put down from their thrones. These stories help us to know that God is there with us in our longing for a different reality. This year, I think, we could use reassurance, some camaraderie of hope and longing with the saints.
What follows are a few practical ways to engage this short season of waiting and hope.
TRY A PRAYER PRACTICE
Many people think of Lent as a time for a new prayer practice, but I would argue Advent can work even better. Lent is a long haul. Advent is less than a month. If you are looking for a suggestion, here are just two — ok, three:
THE DAILY OFFICE
The services of morning and evening prayer in the Anglican tradition are a simplification of the early morning services and the later evening services of monastic communities. Such a simplification brings the rhythm of prayer out of specialized communities and into the daily lives of ordinary people. The Daily Offices, can really be seen as a guide to praying our way through Scripture.
You can access the daily office through Josh Thomas’ site Daily Office or from Mission St. Clare. They both pre-load the readings and canticles for you. They each have apps for IOS or Android. Or, you can go analog and use The Book of Common Prayer, either online or in book form.
Or, during the season of Advent, I invite you to join me for Morning Prayer at St. Peter’s. I will be there on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday mornings at 7:00am. What a great way to start your day!
All the words of Morning or Evening prayer can seem like a lot in a season of slowing down. So, why not try silence as a gateway to prayer? The Trappist Monk, Thomas Keating, has re-introduced the ancient practice of centering prayer. Centering prayer is deceptively simple. You sit in silence for 20 minutes. When you find yourself engaging a thought process, you use a “sacred word” (a simple word, associated with God, that doesn’t lead to images and further thoughts). The sacred word helps you gently let go of your thoughts. Centering Prayer helps us to rest in God.
At St. Peter’s we have a Centering Prayer Group that meets on the 2nd and 4th Saturdays of the month at 8:00am in the Columbarium area of the sanctuary. Or, there’s a 4-session workshop, led by Judy Mullins, on contemplative prayer this Advent Season. See our Website for more information about that.
Every Advent we select a Saturday to step away from the busy-ness of our lives to spend a morning in guided contemplation. This year on Saturday, December 16th I’ll lead a guided Quiet Day from 9:00 to 1:00. Each hour begins with a short meditation on Scripture, followed by an invitation to find a quiet spot to meditate on that, to journal or draw, or to just rest in quiet. There will be coffee, tea, and snacks provided throughout the morning. At noon, we conclude our silence with Eucharist and a lunch, provided by the Pastoral Care Committee at St. Peter’s.
SHOP WITH PURPOSE
We can always try to buy less, to live more minimally, but this time of year consumption is unavoidable. There are folks we love who might be hurt if we don’t buy them a gift. So what if we shopped more intentionally? What if we paid attention not to the quantity of gifts, but the quality of life of the people producing the goods, food, and services we purchase this season?
For example: Kathy and I are planning to get most of our family members gifts from Thistle Farms, a social enterprise that was conceived by and for survivors of human trafficking, prostitution, and addiction. We also choose gifts from MOFGA, the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association to support and encourage sustainable, organic farming in Maine.
You can shop at Thistle Farms HERE
You can shop at MOFGA HERE.
Advent was traditionally a season of fasting. In our time it can be anything but a fast! Cookies, candy canes, eggnog, and peppermint lattes abound. In the midst of all the temptations, could you choose to engage differently?
A fast is different from a diet. Fasting is not about body image. Fasting is knowing that you could eat something, and choosing to abstain. Fasting helps us remember that this is a season with a direction. We look forward to the Feast of Christmas by making the simple decision to eat less before the feast.
Maybe your fast could involve abstaining from meat, alcohol, or sweets. Or maybe you can choose just to have one cookie a day instead of indulging every time someone shows up with a plate. However you practice fasting, it will help you be intentional about food in a season of over-indulgence, and help you to look forward to the feast to come.
LET GO OF WORRY
In her book “Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening,” The Episcopal Priest and teacher Cynthia Borgeault points out that Contemplative Prayer helps us to let go. We try to let go of the noise that crowds our world. What we do in our prayer practice can also affect how we live our life. How can we let go of worry? How can we turn down the news, the rush, the busy? Are there ways you can practice intentional disengagement? Could you make space for quiet, for waiting, for hope?
This year, perhaps more than most, we could use a little creative spiritual disengagement. By unplugging from the rapid cycle of news, work, and consumption, Advent invites us to encounter this time differently.
Advent is a season to acknowledge the “world as it is” is not “the world as it should be.” This season encourages us to rest in the hope that another world is on the way. If we are ready, we might help midwife God’s new creation in the smallest and subtlest ways. To be ready we need to slow down. We need to practice silence, patience, and hope.