The Advent Challenge

By Dustin Davis

“I personally think that honesty about ourselves and all of reality is the way that God made grace totally free and universally available.”
-Richard Rohr, Eager to Love, pg. 104

I recently visited with one of my friends who was nearing the end of her pregnancy. I hadn’t seen her at all since she became pregnant, and it was incredible to see her so close to giving birth. One of my many questions for her was about how it felt, how had the experience been for her. In a moment of honesty, she told me that it hadn’t been all that enjoyable. She described how she was just generally uncomfortable, couldn’t sleep well, and, so close to the end, just wanted to get to the next part. She also said that hearing stories of other women who loved being pregnant didn’t help. But there she was with a few weeks left to endure with nothing to do but continue to wait and prepare to receive her new child.

I have a deep appreciation and respect for my friend’s honesty, and, quite frankly, her humility. I wish I always had the same courage and candor to approach my own spiritual life and journey. The honest examination of her reality reminded me of the Richard Rohr quote above. It seems as if they are both saying the same thing; God uses our life circumstances, all the stuff of our lives, as a means for transformation if we’re able to humbly accept the reality of it.

The spiritual journey, like pregnancy, is easily romanticized. (Other examples that come to mind are vacation, “the holidays” and even Sunday morning church.) We like to fantasize about what it will be like or what it could be like to watch the sunrise every morning, to spend hours in silence, or to go visit a far off monastery or ashram. While lost in our daydreaming we tend to ignore the reality of life, which is usually quite different. Buying books about prayer replaces prayer. Empty journals pile up. Our busyness gets in the way of setting aside time for God. Pretty soon we’ve accepted books and empty journals for actual God experience.

This is especially dangerous when it comes to the bigger things in life like love, self-acceptance or self-image, and death. When a crisis arises or when our carefully crafted plans fall apart, as they invariably do in all our lives, we don’t know what to do or where to turn. When we are out of work we realize we can’t find the comfort we seek in our books. When a sudden death shakes our foundation we wonder where God is or if God was ever there. Both of these have been true in my life.

The reality is that there will never be a perfect moment to pray. That is the romanticized spiritual life. If I wait for when I have time, when I have nothing else to do, when I have perfect health, when my life is all good, when I have it all figured out, I will never ever pray or seek God. (On those rare occasions when everything is going well and I do have a free moment, the challenge becomes one of praise and gratitude to God instead of filling the moment with distractions or self-delusion.) Ironically, as it turns out, every moment is the perfect moment to pray!

The challenge of Advent is to seek God in the busyness, in the suffering, and in the ordinary. If we resist the urge to romanticize them, these realities remind us that we are not in control. These realities, honestly accepted, humble us and teach us that our constant Advent task is to continue to prepare to receive the gift that is now and always freely given.

Spiritual Practice: Prayer of Examen

Breathe deeply and become attentive to the presence of God with you now.
Recall all of the realities of the past day.
How has God been present to you in these realities?
When were you awake and responsive to the presence of God?
When were you distracted from or neglectful of this presence?
Pray for greater awareness of the Spirit’s presence in every dimension of life.
Offer thanks for the gift you prepare to receive, which is “now and always freely given.”
Amen.

Courage: A Prayer

by Katie Harmon-McLaughlin

With all these questions
And expectations
And distractions
I come to the threshold
Of your presence

Weary and enlivened
Standing on the edge of
Vastness
Trembling with a
Joy-Fear-Awe

Do I dare enter in?
Do I dare set aside these
Safe preoccupations
To risk encounter
With the One
Who is the source of all?

Love so deep and pure
I ache even in nearness
Light so radiant
The path ahead is holy obscured

What will it mean
To get this close
To the mystery beyond imagination?

Courage
Courage
Courage

Is the
Pulsing
Prayer
Within

Give me the courage to seek you
In the invitations I’ve ignored
In the spaces I’ve neglected
In the deep wordlessness
Of prayer I don’t control

Courage
Courage
Courage

To follow
The yearning
That will change me

Not Passivity

Lenten Practice: Centering Prayer
Daily Act: Practice deep breathing throughout your day. Whenever an emotion is triggered that would cause you to be anxious, stressed, or angry, take as many deep breaths as needed to rest in God’s presence. Allow your responses to flow from this presence.
Weekly Prayer Phrase:

I dwell in you as the source of all life.

“Contemplation is a very dangerous activity. It not only brings us face to face with God. It brings us, as well, face to face with the world, face to face with the self. And then, of course, something must be done.” –Joan Chittister

By Katie Harmon-McLaughlin

This isn’t about passivity
The spiritual life is
Not a practice in being
Overly nice while
Injustice persists surrounding

It isn’t about fleeing
To a warm, safe space
Secluded from the
Wild dangers
Of the real world

That seems important to say
At the beginning

It is about living from
That space deeper

It is about making
Whatever adjustments are required
In each moment
A response is provoked
That would honor the
God-life in the
Center of our beings
Yearning to come to expression
For the sake of shalom made real

If you would but dare
To suspend your own preferences
And opinions
And enter the deepest inward space
Where the God of wisdom
And justice resides
You will discover
The same source of
Courage
Vision
Compassion
As Isaiah
Hosea
Micah

If you will live
From this space
As the source of all action
It will lead you
Right into the real
This beautiful, wild world
That you are called to love
And transform
In holy ways