On the long darkness that greets us each winter day, consider creating a daily space of reflection.
Advent looks pretty different for the diversity of folks who observe it. Some folks are more comfortable adding something to their routines/ lives to focus on God, while other folks remove routine items/ practices so that they may better focus on God. Either way, the idea is to prepare yourself spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically for the high Holy day of Christmas and enter the season of Christmastide.
Practically, Advent can be a structured time (four weeks) that one brings a level of reflection to one’s life which, oddly enough, can bring liberation. I use liberation here to mean a time where one is freed from the rat race that one’s life can snowball into in pursuit of the completion of the eternal Christmas to-do list, the pursuit of self-affirmation through external sources (especially other people), or even the pursuit of service to others. In naming these things, it is easy to see that though they may not necessarily be harmful, the identity-making pursuit of them necessarily detracts from the pursuit of their opposites (ie. stillness with the Creator; self-affirmation through internal/ spiritual means; self-care; scriptural reflection). These lists may not be entirely fair, but I suspect they are plausible enough that they sound familiar.
So on our journey through Advent, what if we replaced a hour of doing, with an hour of contemplating? But what do I mean by contemplation?
To want God.
To intentionally create spaces where we are “vulnerable to God.”
In this, we prepare ourselves for the observance of the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Eternal Word, the Son, the second person of the Triune God, Christ Jesus. We slow ourselves so that we may open ourselves to the mystery of grace, mercy, and love that the Creator God, the first person of the Triune, gifted creation with in the act of the Incarnation. Because of this act, God, Emmanuel is coming to us.
To guide us through the second week of Advent, let us dwell on the words of an Anglican systematic theologian, Sarah Coakley. For Coakley, contemplation (which she classifies as an ascetic discipline) must be a serious endeavor in a Christian’s life. She defines contemplation as particular kind of prayer, wherein one repeatedly waits on God in silence. This practice cultivates the work of the Spirit, the third person of the Triune, who is often reduced to fluff, but who is actually a fierce subverter of powerful and evil institutions. Further, contemplation is a vulnerable act as one sits and receives the divine gifts that God gives, but in this process, the self is expanded. When one is quiet and open, one can see much more about oneself and the world than one could in the midst performing a series of tasks.
I foresee this practice of contemplation (along with the removal of activities which preclude one from contemplation), as being a dear companion through the journey of Advent. We want God. We want to be opened, filled, humbled, and challenged by the Creator who first prepared this journey for us.
In closing, I’ll leave you with a last quote from Coakley, which can be easily re-written into a prayer:
“Contemplation makes great ethical demands– to lose one’s life in order to gain it, to turn the other cheek, to love one’s enemies. It is not a form of disengagement, but of passionate reordered engagement.”
May we sustain ourselves through this Advent season with the richness of God’s mercy, God’s justice-making, and God’s Love. May it ever be so.
Sarah Coakley, God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay ‘On the Trinity,’ (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 340-344.