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. 

Good Friday

by Jane M. Gardner

In German, today is called Karfreitag or “Sorrowful Friday.” This resonates with me as a description closely tied to the events of Jesus’ last Friday on earth. It was a day of betrayal, violence, and suffering.

There was much about which to be sorrowful. So, why in English do we use “Good Friday”? The origin of the use of “Good” is not clear. Some say it came from an older English name, “God’s Friday” – used to describe Jesus’ faithful response to the mission God called him to perform.

Others link the use of “Good” with the coming dawn of Easter. It is a day that found Jesus trusting and true to God’s purposes. There would be no Easter without the events of Friday, making it a good, essential day.

Regardless of the origin, using “Good” as a descriptor for this Friday is not meant to be an attempt to avoid difficulty and sorrow. Rather, the dramatic events on the last day of Jesus’ life lead purposefully to suffering and, for the good of humanity, to resurrection hope.

Might we be able to find ourselves in this Good Friday story? Can we name our suffering? Think about the women at the foot of the cross. They came face-to-face with Jesus’ suffering and didn’t run away. They stood firm in their sorrow. Perhaps our place is with them. To follow Jesus on Good Friday means to be near the cross and witness, like the women. We follow Jesus by standing still and taking it all in. We follow Jesus by acknowledging that hurt and sorrow are part of life. We purposefully stand still and don’t rush away from the pain. Today we stand at the cross and find God in the stillness and the suffering.

We knowingly enter into Good Friday every year. It is a sacred story and a sacred time. As we choose the discomfort, grief, and sadness of this day, may it bring to mind the suffering that is around us and in us. Find the stillness of this day and through it discern your mission to stand purposefully with those who are suffering and in pain. Take it in. And let the Spirit guide you to be a faithful disciple, even in the moments that are difficult. After all, it is God’s Friday, not ours.

Come to the Table: Maundy Thursday

by Ron Harmon

22 While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” 23 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. 24 He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. 25 Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

32 They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. 34 And he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.” 35 And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” 37 He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? 38 Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Mark 14:22-25, 32-38 New Revised Standard Version

Jesus took basic elements of life and infused them with prophetic meaning and purpose. A simple invitation became a pathway of hope and healing to those excluded and forgotten. A worn wooden table became a new sanctuary of acceptance and abundance for all. Bread became a symbol of remembrance and future possibility where the hungry will be fed. A simple cup conveyed a love poured generously for the sake of a world waiting to be reborn.

I come to this Passover meal never fully prepared. My journey is incomplete. I am still wandering in the wilderness, seeking greater clarity, thirsting for life giving water, and yet still unsure of my heart’s deepest desire. I remember the sacred journey while a holy unsettledness deepens my awareness of a difficult but necessary path ahead.

Is this cup too much to bear? Fountain of generous love that calls me into remembrance, disruption, suffering, and resurrection – hear my faint prayer for liberation. Break through my tired patterns of living that lull me to sleep at your time of greatest need. I desire your company and also want to flee.

Help me be fully awake and ready to respond. Grant me courage to come to the table again – to remember and to risk something new – to receive the bread and cup, embody transforming love, and share the invitation to loving community.

Questions for Reflection:

  • How do the basic elements of the table, bread, and cup evoke sacred memory and invite you into God’s unfolding future?
  • What is your heart’s deepest desire?
  • How is the Spirit inviting you to become fully awake?
  • Who do you need to invite the table?