Our Longings of Advent: Part 4, Contemplation with Community

Continued blessings during this Advent! My prayer is that it has been a rich and meaningful time thus far. We’ll have one more post later this week as we near Christmas-tide!

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In this last week of Advent, we include in our focus of contemplation of self and land, the contemplation of community. We know that we cannot do life alone. Many of us are beginning new seasons of life with school, career, and family and it is temping to try to do this alone, but it is unwise; we draw strength and exhortation from the resonance of a community. Our faith grows as we wait for the Lord together; we know the Lord’s love better because we know the love of each other.

This week, let us focus on each other’s stories. If you are able, create space for time with a friend, making a point to hear his/her/their story and share yours in return. Stories from this year or from years past. These stories need not necessarily all be positive or negative, but it should be your story to share.

Dori Grinenko Baker writes, “theological reflection happens when we look for the place where our stories meet up with God’s story.1” Theology is done everyday, especially in community. In Mighty Stories and Dangerous Rituals, Anderson and Foley write, “Stories are privileged and imaginative acts of self-interpretation. We tell stories of a life in order to establish meaning and to integrate our remembered past with what we perceive to be happening in the present and what we anticipate in the future.”2 As we spend time in reflection of Advent, we would be remiss if we did not focus on stories because they make meaning out of life and help us remember who we are, where we have been, how we have been hurt, or perhaps what/who we are waiting on.

Sometimes stories own us. But I’ll digress as this is a whole other blog post to explore.

May your journey during this sacred time of Advent be rich this week as you do it alongside community.

**Scriptural contemplation for the week: Philippians 4:4-7

1 Dori G. Baker, The Barefoot Way: A Faith Guide for Youth, Young Adults, and the People Who Walk With Them (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), 11.

2 Herbert Anderson and Edward Foley, Mighty Stories, Dangerous Rituals (San Francisco, CA: Josey Bass Imprinting, 1998), 5.

 

Our Longings of Advent: Part 3, Contemplation with Land

Welcome to the third week of Advent! During this time, we are focused on creating space for reflection with the Holy and we are actively sitting with the expectation that the Lord is coming but the Lord has not come yet (at least in the lectionary calendar).

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As we enter into this third week of Advent, we continue to focus on our own contemplation with self and add to it a focus on contemplation with Land. As we are members of creation, it becomes necessary to our selfhood that we reflect on what it means to be in right relation with all of creation. When we are disconnected from the rest of creation (human and nonhuman), we are disconnected from our Creator, because it is only through relationships that we are fully ourselves.

Thus, this week, consider finding the time and space to de-center yourself by focusing on how connected you are to all of creation, especially nonhuman creation. Think about the connections that you have with the Land on which you live; as you sit down to eat a meal, reflect on how long it took to grow that food and how many miles it took to bring it to you; think about the species that dwelled on the Land before it was taken up by buildings; think about land practices that consider all of creation and not just humans; think about the season of winter and how it provides rest to the Land.

Let us reflect on the words of ecofeminist writer, Diann Neu,

Winter brings sweet darkness and chilling cold. We see the stark trees and barren lands, hear the quiet and silence, smell fires burning, touch the snow, feel the blustery wind, and taste steaming soup to warm us inside. This is a time to lie fallow. The spirits of the ancestors knew the power of the darkness and hibernation, the sacredness of death and rebirth. The darkness, dormancy, and silent beauty of winter offer time for another vision. It is time to examine mortality. Mysteries lie in darkness. Solitude brings new dreams from the silence, the waiting, the time apart. Winter invites a long journey inward to draw on natural resources and strength. The starkness of the environment can bring clarity. The structure of the tree and the shape of the land are revealed as they are freed from vegetation. We participate with the Earth in the sacred cycle: death preparing for rebirth, emptying to make space for the new. We rest and hibernate.1

As you reflect the given scripture this week, which talks about in God, “we live, move, and have our being,” think about what it means to live in God. As the culture speeds up, eagerly consuming as Christmas approaches, what does it mean to live and move and have your being in the Creator? Does this change how you live in the world and the ecological footprint that you leave on the earth?

**Scriptural contemplation for the week: Acts 17:22-34

1 Diann Neu, Return Blessings: Ecofeminist Liturgies Renewing the Earth, (Cleveland, Ohio: The Pilgrim Press, 2002), 173.

Our Longings of Advent: Part 2, Contemplation with Self

On the long darkness that greets us each winter day, consider creating a daily space of reflection.
IMG_2270-1Advent 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.

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Sarah Coakley, God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay ‘On the Trinity,’ (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 340-344.

Longings of Advent: Part 1 (Hope)

**This Advent, I will be writing a five-part blog series on Advent and today’s blog is the first, which gives an introduction to the season of Advent.

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So what is this Advent deal all about? Are you currently observing it? If so, how?

As we journey together and commit ourselves to reflective practices during this sacred season, know that I am praying for you and learning with you! It is an honor to do this together.
Let me suggest that, as you read this post, you open up the instrumental version of “O Come, O Come Immanuel” and listen to this Advent song while reading this post.

Advent begins four Sundays before 25 December each year, and for us liturgical types, it begins the church year, hence the name Advent, which means “beginning” or “coming.” In Advent, we wait with longing for the arrival of the Christ child on 25 December. We know that this expected day is coming, but it has not yet arrived. We wait and we are nourished with the hope of what is to come, but is not here yet.

I’m fascinated with the idea of Advent because I have only been celebrating it for three years; this year I am taking time to feel everything that this time has to give. It’s almost a misnomer to say “celebrate” Advent because what I have found thus far is a sad season… one of longing and expectation for the day that is Christ’s birth. It’s a season that does not leave room for cheery Christmas carols or green- red sugar cookies. I’m finding that it’s requiring me to slow down, to stop… stop consuming, stop talking, stop worrying, stop making idols, stop running around… a time to stop.

In our fast-paced, minute-to-win-it culture, the idea of longing for something can be a bit foreign. Everything’s got to happen now. Pronto!… as it should have been completed ten minutes ago. We don’t long for things nearly as much because, well, we can have them right now. We speed up relationships. We speed up acquiring possessions. We speed up worship services. We speed up conversations. I think we’ve forgotten what it means to yearn… to long…. to ache for something deep within. Something that is surely coming but is not here yet.
It’s odd to have to actually plan to slow down, to set a date on the calendar in which you block out time to stop and turn off the gizmos and gadgets. To be quiet. To just be. Without this time, we, as creatures of busyness, become unsettled. Where is the space to meditate, to reflect, to pray? Where is a contemplative time which is required for us to arrive at thoughts that will be necessary for our future?

If no other time of the year, Advent is a time for this. To sweep away the busyness and commercialization of Christmas from our days. To reflect and remember who I am… what is my ethos? What is my purpose here on earth? What have I done with this year? Am I doing that which makes me come alive and working to create space for others to do the same?

Advent is a time to long for what we don’t yet have. To expect. To be caught in the parenthesis of the past and what is surely to come.

The day is coming when we will celebrate, but it is not this day.

This day we long for what is to come. And when it comes, we know it will come with intentionality and significance.

Sometimes at the Communion table on the first day of Advent, before serving the bread and wine, pastors will pray that this bread would sustain the congregation through this time of longing and stillness.

I pray that you too would be sustained during this time of longing. That you would be sustained with the bread of contemplation and reflection. And if this is a sad time for you, let it be. Embrace the pain and make it a part of you.

We will celebrate soon. But for now, we long.