Week Two: Advent Waiting

By Katie Harmon-McLaughlin

My first encounters with the Internet were accompanied by the long, screeching, wavering tone of dial-up. In those days, waiting for a webpage to load was not as inconvenient as it was miracle. To be so connected by the wonder of technology was worth the wait. Today, I feel impatience grow in me when I watch the spiraling icon on my desktop. This mode of communication is now commonplace, and I want it instantaneously.

The immediate has become a driving value in many cultures. If I want food faster, I can put it in the microwave. If I want that new iPhone but don’t have the money, I can put it on a credit card. The goal is maximum efficiency for a minimal amount of inconvenience in our lives. The underlying message we are receiving is: If you can’t have it now, it might not be worth having. (I wonder how this relates to the growing resistance in these same cultures to the life of faith.)

I would by lying if I said that I don’t indulge in immediate gratification. And it’s not all doom and gloom. Some expediency literally has life saving potential. For these advancements, I am grateful. In other ways, this value can be dehumanizing. As a society we tend to cast aside those who can’t keep up. Our incessant need for urgent convenience often comes at a cost to the planet, and the people in the systems producing this endless want.

How does this immediacy-value impact our state of heart as persons of faith? We are invited during this waiting season to slow down enough to examine every part of our life in God. When I recall times of impatient waiting, I notice that my first response is usually to search for distraction. If I am waiting in line, I will take out my phone and scan through emails or social media. I busy myself with other things to make the time go faster, to avoid the reality that I’m in.

What am I missing while keeping myself occupied with other things? Am I missing the opportunity to be present with the other people around me? Am I closing off the invitation of the Spirit to enter into life-giving conversation with a stranger? Am I ignoring ordinary life brimming over with holy significance amid the waiting time? Am I missing a chance to catch my breath and clear my mind instead of continuing to fill it? Is there some great insight or question emerging from my depths never given time enough in silence to surface? Is my evasion of what is before me revealing a deeper evasion of what is within me?

Advent is a waiting season. It reminds us that in the waiting is the forming of the new life we are waiting for. It calls for our full attention, and births anticipation within us. The anticipation is holy, even as it may produce discomfort or impatience. Don’t busy yourself with other things to distract from the restless hope arising within. Stay in it. Notice what it forms within you. It’s worth the wait.

Spiritual Practice: What is the state of your heart in waiting times? What would it look like in your life to be more attentive in the waiting? This week, create intentional space to be prayerfully attentive.

INNER TERRAIN

Lenten Practice: Holy Attention
Daily Act: Spend at least 10 minutes outside just noticing creation. What do you see that you normally don’t notice or take the time to appreciate?
Weekly Prayer Phrase: Repeat this phrase slowly as you breathe deeply. You may choose to memorize this phrase and repeat it throughout your day.

“AWAKEN ME TO YOUR PRESENCE IN AND THROUGH ALL CREATION.”

Today’s blog is a poem by Zac Harmon-McLaughlin, a Missionary Coordinator for Community of Christ (EGLMC). As you dwell in holy attention today, what is revealed to you through creation? How do the natural processes of the earth slow your own pace and humble you into awareness of the holy? How does the outer terrain impact your inner terrain?

“The wide-open vistas that sustain our souls, the depth of silence that pushes us toward sanity, return us to a kind of equilibrium. We stand steady on Earth. The external space I see is the internal space I feel.” Terry Tempest Williams (p.158, Red: Passion and Patience In The Desert)

My Inner Terrain
by Zac Harmon-McLaughlin

If God is a mountain,
Would that make me a rock on God’s cliffed edge?

If God is the desert,
Would I then be a grain of sand on God’s cathedral floor?

If God is the thick and mighty forest,
Would I be a perfected leaf on God’s outreached branch?

If God is the ocean,
Would I find myself as a piece of seaweed dancing to God’s purposeful rhythm?

If God is the beautiful island,
Would I be part of the vibrant greenery that makes God lush and peaceful?

If God is the field,
Would I sit in with the congregation of soil making life possible?

Regardless of this inner terrain,
I rest in the peace that I am part of God.

PAY ATTENTION!

Lenten Practice: Holy Attention
Daily Act: Practice Holy Attention!
Weekly Prayer Phrase: Repeat this phrase slowly as you breathe deeply. You may choose to memorize this phrase and repeat it throughout your day.

“AWAKEN ME TO YOUR PRESENCE IN AND THROUGH ALL CREATION.”

by Katie Harmon-McLaughlin

Sometimes it is an intentional seeing. Sometimes it is pure grace. Sometimes it is a beauty so awe-evoking that you can’t help but settle into an appreciative gaze. Whatever it is that finally captures your attention, I invite you to name it holy.

There is no formula to the practice of holy attention. All that is required is your human body fully present to wherever it is. It helps if you notice what is for what it is and not expect it to be something else.

Once, when sitting on the ground at the beginning of spring, I picked up a perfect skeleton of a leaf. The fleshy centers were all gone, but a body of veins was perfectly intact. I held it with reverence and delicacy in my hand for whole minutes wondering how something so fragile could have survived the winter. I studied its details and felt the knots of anxiety within me loosen as I focused my attention outside of myself for once. To someone who has never taken the time to examine the skeleton of a leaf, it might be perplexing to say that I encountered nothing less than the presence of the incarnate God. If you are curious about how this is possible, I dare you to try it! In the words of the poet Mary Oliver, “Attention is the beginning of devotion.”

It doesn’t have to be a leaf. It can be a cup of coffee, your dog or cat, the meal you are eating, the one you love, your child, a stranger, a whole tree! It can be literally anything or everything anywhere you are that you choose to really see. It feels like waking up. It feels like being alive.

An Altar In The World by Barbara Brown Taylor is an anthem to how the practice of paying attention, or waking up to the divine presence in all things, is at the core of all practices. She writes:

“No one longs for what he or she already has, and yet the accumulated insight of those wise about the spiritual life suggests that the reason so many of us cannot see the red X that marks the spot is because we are standing on it. The treasure we seek requires no lengthy expedition, no expensive equipment, no superior aptitude or special company. All we lack is the willingness to imagine that we already have everything we need. The only thing missing is our consent to be where we are.”

After all my searching and straining and questioning and struggling and yearning to find God, I am learning that maybe the spiritual life really is that simple. God is here. Do you want to see? Then see.

Perhaps in wilderness times, whether Lent is one of those for you or not, this practice is even more difficult and necessary.

All of life takes place in the context of God’s presence. As the Psalmist reminds us, there is nowhere we can go where we are not in God’s Spirit (Psalm 139). Paying attention is the first step to waking up to God no matter where you are.

May you find a hundred reasons this week to notice the divine presence in the world around you… intentionally, as grace, in awe.

Wherever you are, pay attention! You are in the presence of the living God!