Advent: to forfeit our preferences for an outcome...

Here's a quote from Jean Stairs' book, Listening for the Soul:
Pastoral Care and Spiritual Direction, that is guiding my Advent journey this year.  She writes:

Macrina Weiederkehr refers to contemplative prayer as "the beautiful darkness of trusting God to pray within me." To quote T.S. Eliot, when "words strain, crack and sometimes break under the burden, under the tension, slip, slide, perish, decay with imprecision, will not stay in place, will not stay still" then we discover that words themselves can obstruct the gift of God's companionship with us. Rather than listen to our own minds racing forward in thought and struggling to find words to speak, we wait in the seeming emptiness for God to form speech within us... At such times, we resonate with the assurance of the apostle Paul that the Spirit "helps us in our weakness" and "intercedes with sighs too deep for human words."


Stairs then notes that some among us find such contemplative waiting and trusting complicated - even problematic - because: "it requires us to forfeit our preferences for the outcome and to be prepared to hear that which we may not want to hear... The aim of contemplative prayer is not that our own will be shattered into nothingness, but that a healthy will be formed so that choices we make are in keeping with our growth into spiritual wholeness."



THAT, of courses, is the deeper truth behind the observance of Advent: we must come to practice getting out of the way of the Spirit long enough to discern what is true and most healing for our lives and our world.  Most of the time our own words don't help so we need to trust God praying within us.  

I so wanted to say that during worship yesterday - we're not doing this one more time because we HAVE to - nor are we embracing the Advent disciplines as mere liturgical habit.  Rather, we are invited - even lured by grace - to deepen our trust in the Lord by waiting for God to lead us into greater spiritual wholeness.  We sit and wait because at some level we believe God is already praying within us.  THAT is the point of Advent, yes?  


So here is one pastor's lament: I hate talking about spiritual discipline with people who already feel harried and burdened.  I don't want to add an iota more to either their freely chosen challenges or their unfair and unwanted oppressions.  In my heart I resonate with the poem of the prophet as I first learned it as a child:  
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. (Is 9:2) 


One of the truths I cherish about this season is how it invites us to both

sit in our darkness and ponder its wisdom. What is our darkness saying to our soul? Our community?  Our loved ones? Will we wait long enough to hear these insights - and what they might mean?  Or will they feel too burdensome in our already frenetic patterns of action and push us to move beyond? Sometimes the act of preaching/teaching feels so impotent.  I look out into the faces of those I love and see some looking back at me as if I were insane:  what do you mean do ONE more freakin' thing!?!  I am already just hanging on by my fingernails.  Are you nuts?!?  Others stare back as if to say:  I don't have any energy to sit and wait left. I am exhausted. Or afraid. Or simply to tired for any act of spiritual depth.

So I come home and after my nap pray:  you don't have to do anything this season. Just sit and let what God is already doing within you rise to the surface. Just be still and you will know that God is God and that grace has an unforced rhythm.  And all you have to do is receive it - notice the light growing within the darkness - let yourself be surprised by grace.  That's what Advent longs for - that we let ourselves be still long enough that we are surprised by grace - nothing more but truly nothing less.



Israel's poetic prophet, Isaiah, discerned that there would come a time in both history and every human heart when God's truth would evoke the beating of our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks.  We would yearn for harmony and compassion, we would make the effort to cultivate cooperation.  We would trust that even in our own darkness, God was already praying within us and feeding us upon grace. 

I wanted to say all of this and more... but I didn't.  Maybe I will this week but I also have to trust that God is working well beyond whatever I think, say or do.  Perhaps it is better to be still, yes?  Well, it is now time for me to pray with my puppy and walk in the woods before it gets too dark.


credits

1) www.iksynod.org
2) Lighten Up Your Life @ lightenupyourlife.net

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