This last weekend I facilitated a retreat about getting ready for Advent, at a church in Seattle. Advent is meant to be a time when we focus on our celebration the coming of Christ yet we are all torn by the pressures of the culture that invite us to focus our celebrations on consumerism and over indulgence.
Our retreat discussions revolved around the need to negotiate the tension between the stress of busy consumerism and the joy of gathering with friends and family to share fun, food and fellowship, the stress of hectic activity and the desire to slow down and reflect. Reflective times provided fun opportunities to light candles, contemplate images, paint rocks and colour words of faith.
I encouraged participants to look back over the last year at items they have been given or created or else experiences they have been through and consider ways they could use these as a focus. One woman had recently gone through a traumatic relationship breakup and was struggling with lots of sad feelings. She decided that during Advent, every time she felt sad she would use that as a trigger for an act of kindness towards a friend or stranger. Another was reminded of the art journal she used to keep that has been neglected for the last couple of years. She felt God was prompting her to restart it.
What is Your Response?
The questions we grappled with are ones that I think are important for all of us to reflect on at this season and that I invite you to think about today:
- What gives you stress and makes you lean away from the light of Christ?
- What gives you joy and encourages you to lean close to the light of Christ?
- What helps you focus on the real meaning of the season and the light of Christ shining in our world?
- What really matters to you during the season of Advent/Christmas and how do you eliminate or reduce everything else?
My own preparations for Advent have me setting up my personal sacred space with my Advent garden, family photos and prayer cards which help me focus each day. I am also deciding on a short morning ritual that will help focus my day – this year I plan to read one of the prayer cards and its reflection that I put together a few months ago, then reflect on the phrase that is my theme for Advent this year “Lean towards the light of Christ”.
For our joint observances Tom and I will listen to a Gregorian chant at breakfast time, light the appropriate Advent candles, then read through the scriptures for the day from The Book of Common prayer.
These rituals help ground us in the real meaning of the season, allowing us to balance our desire to slow down and wait contemplatively for the coming of Christ with our desire for celebration and partying with friends and family.
What is your response?
I invite you to develop a focus for yourself during this Advent season. Watch the video below – this beautiful Advent song of longing is one way to focus our hearts and minds on the presence of God.
Take some time to look back over this last year.
- What practices and traditions from your past could provide a focus for you during this season?
- What have you created or been given, what memory stirring objects do you have that could provide a focus for you?
- What activities do you enjoy that could provide a focus for you?
Now get to work and establish your own sacred space and spiritual practice for the season. And remember make it simple, make it meaningful, stick to it.