Patience, People

Advent is a time of patience, and our patience is soon to be rewarded!

Among the various reflections I receive daily via e-mail were two that relate, albeit in slightly different ways, to the theme of patience. The first is Eknath Easwaren’s observation that

There is a close connection between speed and impatience. Our culture has become so speeded up today that no one has time to be patient. People in a hurry cannot be patient—so people in a hurry cannot really love. To love, we need to be sensitive to those around us, which is impossible if we are racing through life engrossed in all the things we need to do.

The second is from Caryll Houselander’s The Reed of God (a slim volume worth reading in its entirety). Houselander writes

Strangely enough, those who complain the loudest of the emptiness of their lives are usually people whose lives are overcrowded, filled with trivial details, plans, desires, ambitions, unsatisfied cravings for passing pleasures, doubts, anxieties and fears…. Our own effort will consist in sifting and sorting out everything that is not essential and that fills up space and silence in us and in discovering what sort of shape this emptiness in us is. From this we shall learn what sort of purpose God has for us. In what way are we to fulfill the work of giving Christ life in us?

Speeded up lives, overcrowded with too many nonessentials. Our invitation is to slow down and to lay aside the nonessentials, and to wait and see what God has in store for us.

Waning Days of Advent

Here is what seems to me a perfect poem as we enter the final days before Christmas, Denise Levertov’s Primary Wonder.

Days pass when I forget the mystery.
Problems insoluble and problems offering
their own ignored solutions
jostle for my attention, they crowd its antechamber
along with a host of diversions, my courtiers, wearing
their colored clothes; cap and bells.

And then
once more the quiet mystery
is present to me, the throng’s clamor
recedes: the mystery
that there is anything, anything at all,
let alone cosmos, joy, memory, everything,
rather than void: and that, O Lord,
Creator, Hallowed One, You still,
hour by hour sustain it.

Believe Beyond Believing

My friend Bill included in his Christmas greetings some words from the advent hymn Each Winter As the Year Grows Older. I had not been familiar with the hymn and the excerpt he shared touched me deeply in light of our world today.

When race and class cry out for treason,
When sirens call for war,
They overshout the voice of reason
And scream till we ignore
All we held dear before.

Yet I believe beyond believing,
That life can spring from death:
That growth can flower from our grieving;
That we can catch our breath
And turn transfixed by faith.

O Child of ecstasy and sorrows,
O Prince of peace and pain,
Brighten today’s world by tomorrow’s,
Renew our lives again;
Lord Jesus, come and reign!

You can listen to the whole song here:

Believe beyond believing!

Advent Retreat In Daily Living: Calls and Responses to Invitations

Yesterday was the final session of the three-session Advent Retreat in Daily Living I offered at the University of St. Thomas School of Law this year. The theme of our first session was Creation and Fall, and in our second session last week we considered Promise in the Old Testament. The subject of today’s session was God’s Invitation and Responses to that Invitation.

After giving the participants time to share about their prayer with the reflection material I had distributed this week, I offered a reflection on God’s invitation for us to participate in his plan for salvation. I talked about God’s calls to Abraham, Moses, and other Old Testament figures. Then I talked about the God’s invitation for human participation in God’s entry into human form, addressing Joseph, Mary and Elizabeth.

You can access a recording of my talk here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for 20:59.) You can find a copy of the prayer materials I distributed to participants here.

I hope some of you have been able to participate in our retreat as we have gone along. If not, you can always return to the podcasts and/or the posted prayer material. And remember that if you go to the Podcast link at the top, you can find other Advent podcasts and prayer material.

Many blessings to all during this holy season.

Merton and Advent

Today, December 10, is the 47th anniversary of the death of Thomas Merton, poet, peace activist, Trappist monk, prolific writer, mystic, lover of nature, champion of social justice and contemplative.

Merton once wrote, “The Church’s belief in Christ is not a mere static assent to His historical existence, but a dynamic participation in the great cycle of actions which manifest in the world the love of the Father for the ones He has called to union with Himself, in his beloved Son.”

It is a great thought to keep in mind as we approach Christmas.

Our minds fill with images of a young couple who cannot find room in an inn as the woman approaches pregnancy. We focus on a star and shepherds and wise men. We listen to the prophesies of the coming of the Messiah.

And it is right that we celebrate the birth of Jesus into the world. But, even as we do, we need to keep in mind that our faith is about more than the historical existence of a man named Jesus.

Ultimately, it is about the love of God – a God who longs for nothing less than our total union with Him. A God who chooses to become human out of love – to show us what it means to be fully human – and fully divine.

And, as the Merton quote suggests, our realization of this reality demands a response. Not mere a passive enjoyment of that love, but our commitment to “manifest in the world” that love.

As we move through these days of Advent, days in which our world is groaning in suffering, we might ask how we might more fully manifest God’s love in the world.

Advent Retreat in Daily Living: Promise in the Old Testament

Yesterday was the second session of the three-session Advent Retreat in Daily Living I am offering at the University of St. Thomas School of Law this year. As always, we began by giving the participants time to share some of the fruits of their prayer this week with the material I distributed after our first session (Creation and Fall).

The subject of this second session was Promise in the Old Testament. In my reflection, I talked about the writings of three of the prophets – Isaiah, Micah and Malachi, although I spent the most time talking about Isaiah, one of the great prophets of Advent.

You can access a recording of my talk here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for 20:06.) You can find a copy of the prayer materials I distributed to participants here.

We Need Advent

Today is the Second Sunday in Advent.

Why do we need Advent? Jesus already came, didn’t he? So why do we need to prepare for His coming each year?

A song we sometimes sing in Mass during the Advent season (and at other times) – God of Day and God of Darkness – helps answer that question. Jesus came – He walked on this earth, he died and he rose, but

Still the nations curse the darkness,
Still the rich oppress the poor;
Still the earth is bruised and broken
By the ones who still want more.

Advent is here again because we desperately need it. Our world desperately needs it. If you have any doubt, read the newspapers. Look at the world around us – a world in desperate need of hope, of new birth.

We need this period of waiting and preparing. Unlike those waiting for the birth of Jesus over two thousand years ago, for us the outcome of Advent is not a surprise. We go into Advent knowing the plot – we know Jesus Christ will be born. Indeed, we know the whole plot – we know that God will become human, live among us, die and then rise. So we wait each year for something we know is coming – the coming of Christmas, and our re-celebration of the birth of Christ and all that we know follows from that.

But we don’t just wait. We prepare ourselves. Advent offers us a chance to assess ourselves, to be sure we are ready to welcome Christ into our hearts, our homes, our world. It allows us to deepen our acceptance of God’s working through us to prepare for Christ’s reign. (Emphasis on “through us” – this is not a sit back and wait for God to make it all right attitude.)

And so as continue through these days of Advent, we might reflect on: What am I doing this Advent to give reality to the rule of Immanuel? How am I helping to birth Christ into the world?

Hope and Being Part of Hope

Prompted by an e-mail exchange with a Facebook friend of mine, I’ve been thinking a lot about hope during this past week.

As I’ve been sitting in the transition from the end time readings during the last few days of the liturgical year just ended to the Isaiah readings we hear in these days of Advent, I realize anew (and ever more deeply) that I both have hope and I am part of realizing that which I have hope for. And I jotted down in my journal the other morning three related points regarding the relationship between those two. First that hope without working on behalf of its fulfillment is mere wishful thinking. Second, that as hope grows, there is more energy to play my part in its realization. And finally, that the more I play my part, the more my hope grows and the more I help others have hope.

Although I drafted my contribution to the University of St. Thomas Advent and Christmas Meditations two weeks ago, when I re-read it yesterday morning (when it was published), I realized it fit perfectly with my current reflections on hope. Let me share here both my contribution and a comment I received from one of my colleagues.

Today’s first Mass reading includes one of my favorite passages in the Book of Isaiah – Isaiah’s compelling vision that
“the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid. The calf and the young lion shall browse together…. The cow and the bear shall be neighbors…. The baby shall play by the cobra’s den, and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair.”

A wolf the guest of a lamb? Calves browsing with lions? A baby playing in a cobra’s den? Crazy stuff! Impossible, our rational mind insists.

Yet, if I can’t imagine the “Peaceable Kingdom,” it will never exist. The first step toward a better future is imagining it, believing that that the unthinkable is attainable. Who knows what would be possible if we were able to imagine the future described by Isaiah! Palestinians as guests of Israelis. Boko Haram and Christians in Nigeria sharing a meal. Warring ethnic groups in the Sudan living as neighbors.

It is far simpler to dismiss Isaiah’s vision as impossible than to try to make it a reality. But as Pope Francis wrote in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, our challenge is precisely “to discern how wine can come from water and how wheat can grow in the midst of weeds” (neither of which is any less outlandish than a lion hanging out with a lamb or a child playing in a cobra’s den.)

So reflect on Isaiah’s vision for the world. And then recognize that in each moment, you have the ability to be a force for unity or a force for discord. To promote peace or to act against peace. To stir love or hatred. And ask yourself, what can I do to further the beautiful vision of Isaiah?

In response, my friend and colleague Mariana shared with me the following Mayan Proverb:

El que cree crea;
El que crea hace;
El que hace se transforma a sí mismo y a la sociedad en la que vive.

The one that believes creates;
The one that creates acts;
The one that acts transforms him or herself and the society in which he or she lives.

So have hope. And be part of the realization of that hope. Maybe it is by performing some random acts of kindness this Advent. Maybe it is by sharing your hope in song (as my friend who prompted my reflections on hope does). It could be in a million different ways. But don’t just have hope. Work on behalf of hope. Be hope.

ARAKs: Advent Random Acts of Kindness

I already shared this challenge on Facebook, but because there are many readers of this blog who are not on Facebook, or who otherwise might not have seen that post, I’m sharing it here as well. I received it from my friend Lori, who may or may not have been the originator of it:

With all the suffering that is happening in the world today, I would like to challenge everyone on Facebook to do a random act of kindness from now until Christmas. You could shovel a neighbors driveway, pay it forward at your local coffee shop, watch a neighbors children so they can have a night/day out, send a thank you or Christmas card to a service member, purchase a toy for Toys for Tots….be creative! Just think about it, if everyone on Facebook [read: and everyone who reads this blog] did a random act of kindness for 24 days what an amazing Christmas it will be! So consider yourself challenged! Pass it on to all your friends and family! Let the kindness begin!

Let’s make this a challenge for all of us, not only those on Facebook. What do you say?

You might consider writing your acts on little pieces of paper. Then on Christmas morning you can lay a bowl with your collected acts before the creche as your gift to the Christ child. Beats golds, frankincense and myrrh by a mile.

I’m not suggesting this is not in the place of any Advent prayer you may be doing, which I strongly encourage. (And I’ll be posting my Advent retreat/reflection material here and hope you will make use of it.) But it is an invitation to put our prayer into action.

Advent Retreat in Daily Living: Creation and Fall

Yesterday was the first session of the three-session Advent Retreat in Daily Living I am offering at the University of St. Thomas School of Law this year. As I’ve shared before, Advent is my favorite time of the liturgical year, and it is an important season that often gets slighted as so many seem to move directly from Thanksgiving to Christmas. Thus, I always offer some kind of Advent reflection series at the law school, even if it is a busy time of the semester for students. (End of classes, reading period, exams.)

The subject of our first session was Creation and Fall. In my reflection, I talked about the creation story, the entry of sin into the world (including how we might understand the nature of that first sin), and God’s plan for salvation. We ended with a guided meditation on creation.

You can access a recording of my talk, which includes the guided meditation at the end, here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for 27:09.) You can find a copy of the prayer materials I distributed to participants here. Note that before I began the recording, I asked the participants to introduce themselves and say a few words about what Advent means to them; that is what I am referring to in the opening lines of the podcast.

I opened the session with Henri Nouwen’s Advent Prayer. Since it is not on the podcast, I share it here:

Lord Jesus,
Master of both the light and the darkness, send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas.
We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day.
We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us.
We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom.
We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence.
We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light.
To you we say, “Come Lord Jesus!”