by Christine Sine
On Saturday I facilitated a small contemplative retreat day at our home in Seattle. I always enjoy preparing for thee days which give me an important opportunity to relax and refresh myself too. They remind me of the preparation I need to do to get myself ready for a new season and encourage me to create new practices for my own spiritual life.
The focus was developing a rhythm of life for the Advent season and beyond. I encouraged participants to create their own unique rhythm based on a process of prayer, planning, preparation and practice. I talked about the violence we do to our souls by succumbing to the rush and pressure of modern life and Parker Palmer’s assertion that we need to know when and where to seek sanctuary for our souls. If we don’t have place that provide sanctuary our lives spin out of control and our rhythm becomes distorted.
This is where we need prayer:
The prayer that draws us into the place of sanctuary isn’t what most of us think about when we imagine prayer. Once I would have been happy to see the waiting season of Advent as a time to pray according to the prescribed patterns the lectionary calls us to, but not anymore.
Advent wreaths and Christmas music are not what provides sanctuary for my soul. These are the forms of prayer and practice prescribed by a culture hundreds of years ago.
Now I need something new, something that encourages me to wait by reaching deep into the depths of my soul and looking for something that resonates with who God has created me to be. This is a prayer that begins in silence, a prayer that draws me deep into my inner being, into what Parker Palmer calls “the place of not-knowing”, that beckons us all to relax and slow down, often in the darkness, “until our eyes adjust and we start to see what’s down there.” As Palmer says “I want to make my own discoveries, think my own thoughts and feel my own feelings before I learn what the experts say.”
It often takes darkness to enable us to think for ourselves and experiment with something new. We learn not to hurry what God is doing or try to force a pathway that is not divinely inspired. Out of this kind of prayer comes a plan and a rhythm that is uniquely our own, a rhythm that it is easier to stick with because it has risen from the depths of our souls.
My prayer above came from this type of reflection.
What are the prayers that lie in the dark and wait to bubble up from inside your soul as you prepare for the Advent and Christmas season?
Another of my favorite authors, Christine Valters Paintner in her latest book The Soul’s Slow Ripening, comments that “the soul thrives in slowness and the divine spark of life reveals itself when we pay attention.” Paying attention to the prayers that have been birthed, rooted and now grow in the dark, in the slow place of contemplation, experimentation and discovery often results in unexpected but important plans, that can form the firm foundations we need for our seasonal rhythms.
Waiting in the silence, growing in the dark, allowing roots to find anchor in the soil, this is the kind of planning that has invited me to unleash my creativity and develop new practices.
In what ways are you paying attention to the divine spark within you promoting you to slow down and take notice?
There are three things that help me prepare for a new season
- Going on retreat – as many of you know this is something that Tom and I do 3 or 4 times a year. It is an extremely important part of my preparation for any new season
- Consult a soul friend – “an intimate bond where two people opened their hearts to one another, sharing their doubts and fears, their struggles and successes, encouraging one another on the journey.” I am privileged to have several good friends who provide soul friendship for me, some of whom have done so for decades. It is part of what has given my faith resilience through the tough times I have passed through.
- Have some fun – It is only in the last few years, and particularly as I have worked on my upcoming book The Gift of Wonder, that I have come to believe in a God who loves fun, laughs frequently and delights in me and whom I am created to be. According to play expert Dr Stuart Brown, “nothing lights up the brain like play”. He believes that play might be God’s greatest gift to humankind. Nurturing my relationship with this fun loving God has refreshed my soul and given me permission to enjoy life in every season.
What steps are you taking to prepare for the upcoming season?
Out of this framework of preparation comes the new practices that I engage in. This year it has been the fun activity of creating an Advent Jar that has really helped me focus and develop a sustainable rhythm for the season of Advent. It was my first experiment with spray painting a jar – something I have wanted to do for a long time. Now I am preparing to spray paint a whole collection of small terra cotta pots which will form my Advent calendar this year. I have had a ball – both in the preparation and in the anticipation of my upcoming practice for the new season.
What new practice resonates in your soul as you get ready for Advent?