Widening the Spaces: Preparing for Advent

by Katie Harmon-McLaughlin, Spiritual Formation Ministries 

I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.

-Rainer Maria Rilke

I have been hearing a frustrated weariness coming from many as we approach the Advent season this year. Globally, we have been frightened and grieving as violence, despair, and division threaten to settle in as the new norm. Turning toward a season luminous with joy and hope, I struggle to embrace its arrival, wondering what “new thing” there could possibly be to bring, wondering how an ancient story might still form and guide us in these challenging times.

How do we prepare our hearts to live again this story of Christ’s birth into our lives and world? This Advent, we are invited into a practice of sacred opening to God, self, others, and creation. While the temptation is often to shut down and withdraw, Advent reminds us to “prepare the way of the Lord” by opening up with courageous presence to reality as it is, wherever we are. Something is happening, whispers the mystery of this season of hope. Can we gather the strength of heart to still trust that Spirit will become incarnate even where we least expect, for the healing of our world?

Each week during this season, we will contemplate widening the spaces in our lives and relationships. Perhaps the gift that Advent can bring this year is a sacred opening of those spaces within and around us which have become too crowded or closed. The more we open, the more we will be able to receive of the divine presence that is already here and always arriving.

A few practices can guide our way as we journey through the Advent season:

Opening Space Within: Resist the distractions that are often used to fill the time. Pay attention to what emerges as you listen into your inner spaces. This can be as simple as choosing not to reach for your smart phone while standing in line or spending the first couple minutes of the morning present to what you are feeling as you start the new day.

Opening Space with Others: Pay attention to the ways you interact, and react, with others (family, friends, colleagues, strangers). Intentionally take a posture of listening in your relationships rather than filling the space with your own stories or opinions. Keep your heart open to people with whom you disagree. Become more open in relationship with others by risking vulnerability.

Opening Space for Spirit: Find time each day to enter a few moments of silence, to be present with God. It could be a deep breath when entering the car for the morning commute, or an intentional pause between activities. Let this question gently interrupt you throughout the day, “Where is the Spirit present right here, right now?

Opening Space Around: Open wider your own boundaries of belonging. Explore a new part of your neighborhood, form of prayer, or relationship. We often get caught in the routines that encircle our lives with unintended boundaries of comfort and familiarity. Embrace a wider belonging by being present in a new place or with a new person.

May we dare to open wider to incarnation possibility in every relationship, in every place! 

Additional Advent Resources:

Upcoming Events:

Get the early-bird registration for our upcoming spiritual retreat when you register by January 1, 2018. “The Awakened Heart” Contemplative Retreat at Happy Valley Conference Center. February 16-18, 2018

Spiritual Formation and Companioning Program Applications are due by January 26, 2018. For more information, and to apply, visit our brochure. 

The Slow Work of God

by Shandra Newcom

“Trust in the slow work of God.” Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

When I was pregnant with my son, 15 years ago, I found myself in a place of waiting. I was waiting for him to grow and waiting for him to be born. It took all I had to discover the patience within that allowed me to wait with anticipation and promise.

I like things to happen quickly. I’m a fast reader, thinker, and mover. But being pregnant brought with it a slowing down that really forced me to wait for the time to be right. I learned that I could live into a place of patience and soon enough, my child was born. And, of course, he was worth the wait.

I think I’ve learned to move quickly, from a culture that teaches us that individualism and self-concern are primary. If I move fast I don’t have to pay attention to people around me who may be suffering, who may be in pain. I can walk or drive by folks on street corners, look away when I pass someone in tears, not engage when someone wants to tell their story in a way that asks me to stop and listen. I can live in my own little world, safely insulated from the cares and concerns of others who may need something from me. And safely insulated from the relationships they offer when I realize that I need something from them too. There’s a back and forth, a give and take that I miss when I breeze through life. The way to experience deep and abiding love in relationship is through time and commitment to community.

The culture in which I live tries to keep me from this deep well of engagement. I feel the need to have an encounter with the Divine but I’m taught to look for that feeling of peace in the stuff I buy or the things I think I need. But what I don’t need is more stuff, more things, more ways to ignore the real lives of those around me, more ways to ignore myself. I can surround myself, insulate myself, with stuff and I will still be lonely, still desire communion with God, still feel empty.

God comes in the quiet times, the times when things do not have a hold on you. God comes in the waiting moments, the times when you pause and pray. God comes in the patient listenings, the times you open to peace and hear with your whole heart.

And this is not a quick fix for the problems you carry within you. This is not a sudden departure from concern or pain. This is a window into peace that brings patience and hope. This is a waiting for a birth that promises to be transforming.

We can’t jump there from here. We can’t skip over the journey. We can’t buy our way into the story. Our stuff won’t get us there quicker. In fact, the opposite is true. We must wait and walk together. We must stop and listen to each other. We must be counter-cultural and ask more questions than we give answers. We must give away the stuff that surrounds our heart and keeps us from feeling deeply, no matter if that stuff is what we bought at the store or gathered from our past or built on our own.

The slow work of God is leading us to new life. In patience we find promise. Our birthing pangs point us to possibility. Let us wait and slow down so that we will not miss anything. Let us join together to live this process in community so that all will be welcomed. Let us be together on the journey, stripped bare of the trappings of the season and filled with the heart of Christ.

Spiritual Practice: Approach prayer with the intention of patiently listening. Allow yourself to simply be present to God in the silence.

Choose Hope

Choose Hope
by Katie Harmon-McLaughlin

We are tempted with believing despair is urgent-
Disaster prolific.
We can get lost in overwhelm.
These lenses we wear we did not choose
As they attached themselves to our heart’s eyes
Through a million messages of fear-
A constant barrage in the soul.

We can all see the images
Hear the words
Sense the unrest
Like the whole earth is tipping toward ruin.

BREATHE. That’s first.
Then know:
This is the time for taking off these fear lenses
Which blind us to Spirit movement and human goodness.

We can choose how we will see this world
And how we will respond to what we see.

As followers of the risen One,
What lens are we to wear?

The lens of a resurrection people is hope.

And what is resurrection today?
Is it an event, or many events?
Is it metaphor?
Is it basic biology- a regenerative truth trapped in our DNA-
A holy momentum we couldn’t stop if we tried
That says continuing is the natural way
That all life always, even in it’s dying, is becoming part of some other life?

Choose hope
And see the inherent goodness in the world
And find a grace not your own breathing through you
And ask in wonder- from where does this capacity for forgiveness come?
And what of this strength to keep going that lifts us up in our weariness and will not let us surrender to desolation?

Choose hope
Because it is a flame burning within you regardless just waiting for you to discover and live its heat, its light.
Because it is yearning to be noticed in the daily acts that beg for your attention- the simple kindness you receive throughout the day… and the impulse in you to give simple kindness to others.

Choose hope
Because the Spirit has not stopped stirring, moving, breathing, speaking…
Because nothing is ever really ending even when it feels like it is.

Choose hope
Because it is also the birthplace of courage to speak, to live, to act the God-dream for a better world within us.
Because it is not a flight from realities of despair but strength to enter them, to resist what they are telling us about what can’t be.

Maybe the whole earth is tipping toward shalom.
Maybe what we long for is just beyond the horizon.
Maybe seeds are taking root in us planted by our ancestors.
Maybe there is still much to flourish.

Maybe people are even better than we thought they were-
That for every oppressor there is a liberator
For every violence there are communities dedicated to healing
For every cry of war there is a movement of peace.

Maybe there are actually many more people who want to love and lift up then harm and beat down.

Maybe what seems impossible now will one day be the norm for our grandchildren’s grandchildren.

Choose hope-
The lens of a resurrection people,
The good news of Jesus Christ for, in, through the world today.