Freed to Say Yes

by Dustin Davis, Spiritual Formation Team

When it comes to church life, I have a hard time saying no. If someone is needed to teach a class, cook for the congregation, or fill an open preaching slot, I can usually be counted on to step up to the plate. When it comes to the spiritual life, I have a hard time saying yes. If God is urging me to take the next step on my journey, detach from my ego to honestly but lovingly look at my motivations and judgements, or simply notice God’s presence all around, I will usually sweep it under the rug. (Why doesn’t God just ask me to plan worship instead?) This is why I find Mary so inspiring.

In the birth narrative in Luke, Mary is visited by the angel Gabriel who tells her that she will give birth to a son who will be the Son of God. (Talk about disruptive!) How, Mary wonders, can this be? The angel assures her, “Do not be afraid… for nothing will be impossible with God,” By the end of their encounter Mary says, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word,” (Luke 1:26-38). Can you imagine not only saying yes to such a request, but saying it so freely and completely? I can only guess that Mary was responding from the deep well within that springs forth as a result of a rich and connected spiritual life.

St. Francis of Assisi once wrote in Letter to All the Faithful, “We are mothers of our Lord Jesus Christ when we carry him in our hearts and in our bodies, lovingly, and with a pure and sincere conscience, and give birth to him through the working of his grace in us which should shine forth as an example to others.” Certainly Mary’s yes, carrying Jesus, and then giving birth to him shines as an example for us today of what total freedom and commitment in and to God looks like, but can I really do the same?

St. Francis would say yes. In fact, he is saying that all are called to the sacred and profound task of bearing and birthing Jesus into this world and by so doing declaring the advent, or coming, of the Kingdom of God in our own time and place. Joan Chittister is surely saying the same when she writes in The Liturgical Year, “It is while waiting for the coming of the reign of God, Advent after Advent, that we come to realize that its coming depends on us.” You see, we are not just waiting for baby Jesus to show up. It is through our actions during our waiting, our saying yes, that Jesus comes again and again into this world!

As we begin this advent journey, there is one thing I think important to note. When Mary said, “Let it be with me according to your word,” she surely did not know the particulars of the journey that lie ahead, let alone its scope or impact. (She might have said no if she did!) The same is true for us. To say yes to God means letting go of our preplanned destinations and well-mapped routes to get there. Through intimate relationship with God – the work of the spiritual life – we come to a liberating trust that God sees the “bigger picture” that we cannot. Although perhaps scary at first, if we can learn to travel in trust like Mary, we can also travel assured like Mary that nothing is impossible with God. We are freed to say yes in response to the one who first says yes to us!

Spiritual Practice: What is currently restricting your free yes in response to God’s deep invitation in your life? Pray for the ability to freely offer your yes to God.

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Are you searching for ways to go deeper this Advent? Click the image above for a free Advent spiritual retreat resource.

Advent Visitations: A Sacred Yes

by Katie Harmon-McLaughlin

This is where we begin. So easily we can get caught on what really happened and what did not, could not.

This is the question you are invited to ponder today:
How is this story still happening in your life, in the world?

28 And [the angel] came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus… 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. 

(Luke 1:26-38, NRSV)

Allow this peculiar story at the heart of our journey to come to life in your imagination. Discover where you find yourself within it.

As the story unfolds within me, I have many questions. First, what was this scene like? Was this mid-day or mid-night? Was Mary busy about her daily tasks when interrupted or was she sitting still, poised receptive, as so many of the paintings depict? If you took her pulse during this encounter, would you be concerned about her heart rate? What was she thinking… and better yet, because thoughts probably at this point made no sense, what was she feeling? What was the strongest movement within her once the angel eased her fear? Was it curiosity? Desire? Awe? Confusion? Timidity? Terror? Wonder?

This encounter seems to happen in an instant. No instructions. No real explanation. Just a proclamation and a question- are you willing to be the bearer of God? Imagine yourself in her place. You have a second to choose. This angel before you will be gone as quickly as he came. But nothing can be normal from here.

Could you dare to utter the words, “Let it be with me according to your word”? Could you dare to even nod your head yes?

This is a story of the Holy birthed in unexpected places. A virgin. A barren older woman. An oppressed people. The deeper message beneath these images seems to be- even in seemingly lifeless places, God’s life can and will emerge. There is always reason for hope. This is a message we need.

What is also unexpected is Mary’s unlikely yes to this disruptive and largely unknown invitation. The whole story hinges upon Mary’s yes to God.

The thin moments between the angel arrival and departure, between the question and the answer, are the spaces that we can most relate to. This thin space occurs daily in each of our lives. Have you noticed? You may be about your daily tasks. You may be sitting still, poised receptive. You may be awakened in the middle of the night. You may be driving to work or shopping at the grocery store or walking down the halls at your school. Chances are, there is a proclamation somewhere of what is possible if you would but see. Chances are, God-With-Us is asking to be birthed in you, for the kingdom of God to be made real in whatever place you are in.

Are you willing to become the bearer of God? What yes is sitting on your heart, emerging despite the fear and trembling? Will you be surprised at yourself when you say it out loud?

The Angel words on repeat in your soul- “The Lord is with you. Do not be afraid.”

Spiritual Practice: Notice the thin spaces of angel visitation in your daily life. What sacred yes are you invited to say?

A Journey Through Advent

by Katie Harmon-McLaughlin

I have heard from several people that they are not yet ready to think about Advent. I can relate to their resistance. Lately, I feel like I’ve been speeding through this life, coming up for air just in time to see the next season racing toward me. Busyness is an addiction. I have such good intentions of keeping open space and still it becomes full, and still it becomes rushed, and still I find myself weary from all the doing, struggling to gather the energy required for what is coming next.

Our journey through the Christian year serves a sacred and formational purpose. Perhaps it is when Advent seems to come so quickly, in our hurried movement from one season to the next, that we need its arrival the most. Perhaps being perfectly ready to receive Advent isn’t the point since it is the season of growing in readiness. Perhaps Advent is offered to us as a gift of grace, inviting us to the deeper rest of remembering how the Holy lives beyond what we can produce or control.

Sometimes, writes Alessandro Pronzato, “the most urgent thing is- to wait.”

Advent is a season of waiting, making ready, preparing a space for what God is doing in and through us. It reminds us that we cannot make on our own the one thing we want most. The invitation is to be attentive enough in the waiting to notice the signs of new life stirring beneath what we can see.

“That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.” Romans 8:23-25, MSG

Something is happening. This we can know. Advent’s destination is always what is promised: GOD-WITH-US. But there are no shortcuts or bypasses. What is needed is TIME for FORMING and our souls made available for this holy task. Our participation is required, but it is not one more thing to do. It is attention to what the Spirit is doing. It is our deepest hope becoming alive within us. It is deep hope being made real for the whole world.

So if you’re not quite ready, that’s ok.
Take a deep breath, maybe a few.
There is no rush.
The getting ready will happen along the way.

This Advent, you are invited to join us in a daily retreat through reflections, poems, prayers, and practices. 

Week 1– Advent Visitations: A Sacred Yes
Week 2– Advent Confrontations: Patience and Paradox
Week 3– Advent Vision: Bearing the Gift
Week 4– Advent Hope: Trusting the Promise