Advent: A time to honor our infant God. A time to look forward to what is to come. A time to reflect on Christ’s humanity and humility. A time to enter the mystery of a new year, a new life in the church. A time to honor Mary the mother of God. A time when all your favorite Christmas hymns return (“O Come O Come Emmanuel? Yes!”). A time for purple and pink candles, nativity scenes, and chocolate-filled calendars. A time for decoration and cheer in our homes. A time of rehearsing for pageants, carol services, and masses. Everyone’s Advent experience might look differently. Everyone’s energies might be spent differently during this year. For me, Bernadette, I find that my views on advent feel wholly different than in previous years. Maybe it’s partly because I’m in a new country with new people and new duties; but mostly, because I think God is trying to teach me something. I’m looking at this new liturgical year, this advent time, as not only a time of anticipation and preparation but of real and honest examination. In the past I have never really ‘made it’ to this spiritual posture of reverence and openness. It’s new and subtle, but I definitely notice a difference in myself.
I wouldn’t consider myself a very good planner or decision-maker. Perhaps my two biggest weaknesses. I tend to be a spacey sometimes. Looking ahead always seems like a daunting task, and my personal future plans always remain hazy and hypothetical. However, in the daily activity of Clonard Church, I find that I need to be ‘on the ball’ with everything going on in the community and that requires a certain amount of preparation.
Liturgically, I know what is coming. I know for a fact that we will celebrate the birth of Christ at the end of December. So what does that mean for me? Well, as a teacher in the classroom, it means that I am trying to look ahead and find the best way to relay the ‘real meaning of Christmas’ in the most effective way. As a musician, it means knowing my part for all the many sacred and secular ceremonies, (Clonard Church really has a lovely ‘Santy World’ with the best group of kid carolers and volunteers). It means preparing half-hour reflections that will air on the radio and be heard by Wexford listeners. It means taking a little extra time in the chapel to savor the words by John the Baptist and all the prophets.. All of this intertwined begs the question toward me: Bernadette, do you feel prepared for the most important thing? Do feel ready for what’s entering your heart?
Mhm. Yea, of course… I am… I know, I know, my heart’s a manger and everything…. I mean I think I’m ready….hmmm….. well… I know I should be… I do really want to be.
Whether you work in or outside of the church, it can be very easy to get mentally caught up in the busywork and scheduling of this season. I find that I actually need to improve my skills in that regard sometimes. However, I also know that the bigger purpose is always at play. The inner work that has to be done during this season is vital to our well-being, to our relationships and our communities and families. With the birth of Christ, I look for a new birth in my personhood – in my ministry, in my selflessness, in my capability to love and be open to love.
One of the things that perhaps stirred me to think more deeply about Advent was when, a couple weeks ago, I attended a Centering Prayer workshop at Clonard. The purpose of this habitual method of prayer is to remove any obstacles that might distract from God’s presence and action within us. We simply sit with an open heart and, as one of the parishioners described, “speak in silence – God’s first language,” and always mindfully return to a certain word of consolation. In these moments, the in-dwelling Spirit of God can speak to us, comfort us, even just remind us of who He really is. This experience stayed with me. It helped me recognize the gentleness that God has to offer in His relationship. This prayer helped me feel His presence even in the shifts and changes of my life. It infused a kind of peace in me, which lasted throughout the day. It held my spiritual gaze.
So for this Advent, my spiritual attitude in Ireland is, for lack of a better word – gestational. Still in progress. I want to not only be aware of this source of peace, this Spirit of the living God that already resides in my heart, but to help it grow. I ask myself questions like: Am I Catholic in action or on paper? Am I being as selfless as I possibly can be? Am I actually trusting Him, or do I hold on to my anxieties? Am I a child of the light or of the world? The examination could go on and on. But I do think it’s healthy to intentionally participate in how we are changing, because time inevitably changes us and a little self-evaluation is never a bad thing. Perhaps its not a question of how ready you are, but rather how willing you are. How willing are you to remove any obstacles to your connection with God? How willing are you to look for pockets of prayer time? How willing are you to speak to others about what’s going on in your heart? Are you willing to look at the darker parts of yourself, and then turn to God in His embrace? As this liturgical year begins, I pray that our hearts may renew our baptismal promises to God and be open to the love that He so eagerly wants to give.