In a couple of weeks my husband and I will head to Australia to spend Christmas with my family. For the first time for many years I am not buying Advent wreaths or Christmas trees. And I am not making an Advent garden, the Australian agricultural department would confiscate it on sight. Spending Advent and Christmas on the move has made me rethink my practices for the season.
Keep it simple, make it meaningful, stick to it, the mantra that has seen me through many transitions in my spiritual practices is once more guiding my creativity. Here are the steps I used to help me focus. Let me know if you find them helpful in shaping your own practices for the season.
I started last week by setting aside time to reflect, imagine and create what I thought would be most helpful for me during this season.
I closed my eyes and imagined what the next few weeks could look like and thought about what I would like God to accomplish in my life during the weeks ahead. I thought of the places I would stay and imagined where I could practice my spiritual exercises. I wondered about how I would carve out time in the midst of the desire to spend every moment with friends and family.
Going through this exercise before I stepped in the busyness of the upcoming weeks helped me prioritize my desires and put my faith back at the centre of my time away. The stores are already focused on getting us ready for Christmas, our faith practices should be doing the same.
Choose themes for the weeks ahead.
Out of my times of prayer and reflection I wrote down the thoughts that came to mind. I chatted to friends and advisors about the upcoming season and wrote down the new thoughts that emerged. I sat with them for a while and allowed those that spoke to my heart to emerge. Out of this I chose themes for the upcoming weeks – Seek God; Breathe deeply; Rest Quietly; Share joy; Love others; Let God find you; Create a sacred path for others to follow.
Then I went on line to find artistic fonts to print out my themes. I chose a different font for each theme. This in itself was a fun exercise.How would I use them? Did I just want fonts that looked interesting? Did I want to be able to colour them? Did I want to be able to craft them myself as this article on Creative lettering for Art Journalling spells out? This process too helped shaped what I planned to do over the upcoming months and enabled me to develop more structure for the time ahead.
Select a Medium for Recording Your Journey.
My questioning above made me realize that I needed a special journal for the season, one that was not too large that I could both write and colour in without the gel pens bleeding through to the next page. I wanted a loose leaf journal, but could not find one smaller than 8×11 so I chose a nice leather covered journal with parchment paper. I added a special pen that is made from the teak deck boards of the Anastasis where I spent 12 years of my life, printed out my themes on pieces of paper as well as some of my prayers and appropriate scriptures, pulled out a supply of gel pens (probably to be pruned down before I travel) and thought that I was ready to start.
At first I planned to distribute my theme pages evenly throughout the journal and glue them in, but then I realized that it would be easier to colour these pages before I pasted them in. I also realized that this gave me much more flexibility. Some themes might take more than a week to reflect on. I did not want to hurry God through the season. Perhaps this will see me not just through Christmas but into the new year as well.
Develop a Process.
When I got all my bits and pieces together I was so excited that I wanted to start immediately. I sat down to start but my mind went blank. I got distracted by a work project I had left on my desk and soon realized I needed a well thought out process to focus my practice and discipline my actions. I am still working on the details but thought you would like to know what I have come up with so far.
- Sit quietly in my chosen space taking deep breaths in and out for a couple of minutes.
- Recite one of my centering or breathing prayers.
- Add some colour to the words of my chosen theme and allow their meaning to seep into my soul. As I worked on this a couple of days ago I smudged my colouring. My immediate response was to start over, then I realized that the smudge too was part of the pattern God wanted me to learn from. I smudged it because I tried to colour too much too quickly, obviously getting ahead of what God wanted to do that day. As I thought about this I was reminded of the Japanese art of kintsugi in which the artist takes a broken piece of pottery and mends it with gold lacquer. The repair is highlighted and adds to the beauty, just as God is able to use the mistakes and broken places in our lives to increase the beauty of who we become.
- Read through the prayer/poem that anchors me in my theme. For my first week, I have written this prayer into my journal and go over it every morning, not just reading it but tracing out the letters with a different coloured pen each day.
- Reflect on words, scripture or images that come to mind. There are several ways to do this depending on what I sense God is saying. I love variety and so having these options allows me to flow wherever the Spirit wants to take me.
- I have plenty of space to write down the thoughts that come to me and am writing these in colour, highlighting special words, open to what God is saying. It has already revealed much to me as I begin this journey. It is making me more attentive to listen to what is happening in me, around me and in my relationship to God.
- I have printed out a couple of scriptures on my theme Seek God – Acts 17:26-30 and Luke 12:28-34 from The Voice. These too can provide a focus for my reflections.
- I am beginning to experiment with some artistic designs. This is a little scary for me. It makes me feel very vulnerable for some reason, more vulnerable than when I paint on rocks and add them to my meditation gardens, but I realize that God has called me to both step outside the boxes of the traditional and also be willing to be vulnerable.
Create Your On Path
What do you plan to use as spiritual practices for the seasons of Advent and Christmas? My plan of action is not shared for you to follow. It is shared to stir your creativity to imagine the unique and special pathway God wants you to follow through the upcoming season.
God has gifted all of us with creativity and imagination that needs to be stirred and developed so that our practices strengthen rather than weaken our faith. We are all formed from God’s creative act to be co-creators in this God infused world we live in. Take some time, take back your life and make Christ the focus of all you do over the coming months.