by Christine Sine
It’s the last week of Advent. Yesterday, we lit our 4th Advent candle. To be honest though, my focus and I think the focus of many of us is on Christmas rather than Advent. We are really ready to celebrate the birth of Christ and I was tempted over the weekend to change out my Advent images for Christmas ones. I did move my narcissus bulbs (now flowering) and one of our poinsettias in behind my Advent wreath so that I caught a first glimpse of the Christmas season. However, I resisted switching everything to Christmas symbols and I am glad that I did.
Prompted by Lilly Lewin’s Freerange Friday, Finding Joy with the Shepherds, I read through Psalm 97 in both the Passion Translation and The Message. This verse really caught my attention:
“Light-seeds are planted in the souls of God’s people,
Joy-seeds are planted in good heart-soil” Ps 97:11 The Message
What have I done over the season of Advent to prepare good heart-soil, I wondered? And how good is the soil that I have prepared to plant and nurture the seeds of joy and light that God wants to grow in me in the coming year?
As I pondered this, I was reminded that in Meditation Monday – Plant, Grow, Flourish at the beginning of Advent, when I planted those narcissus bulbs, I wrote:
The Old Testament begins with God planting a garden, a place of utter delight, pregnant with life that is meant to grow and flourish. Here, God shapes humankind from the soil to tend the garden, drawing all of us into the eternal story as caretakers of a creation that is meant to flourish.
In the beginning of the New Testament, God plants a single seed of divine presence, a single seed of a new creation, entering the human story and meant to grow, flourish and be multiplied throughout the earth. No sculpting into being of a fully formed human this time, but the planting of a tiny seed that must grow and develop as we all did, in a mother’s dark and nurturing womb, in the right season breaking out as a new born baby that like us took years to develop into a fully mature human.
This Advent opened for me new understanding of the people around Mary and their importance in protecting, nurturing and bringing to birth the child planted and growing in her womb. Without Elizabeth, Joseph and Joseph’s family the child Jesus, this first seed of God’s new creation, would not have survived and flourished. Without the shepherds and the Magi it would not have been heralded with the welcome that the Messiah deserved.
What light-seeds and joy-seeds have been planted in your life this Advent season? Hopefully this Advent season has planted divine seeds in us, too. That seed planted in Mary’s womb 2,000 years ago has already matured, died and produced millions of seeds that have now been planted in us. But are they planted in good heart-soil? The Advent story places tremendous responsibility on us to protect and nurture the seeds of hope and joy, of justice and peace that God has planted within us by preparing and enriching the heart-soil in which they are planted. Much to ponder as I looked at my flourishing narcissus bulbs – the Advent wreath looks quite drab without these hope giving signs of life.
Who have we enlisted to help protect and nurture the seed? Who do we hope will herald the seeds with joy and welcome?
2020 has been a hard year for all of us and has left many of us feeling that the soil of our hearts and our souls is depleted. Some feel that it is barren and, to be honest, these last couple of weeks have been really hard for me and I certainly am aware of the depletion that the stresses of 2020 have brought. So what am I doing to prepare my heart-soil, and what do you think you should be doing?
I have recruited those whom I know will help me build up the soil in the ways it needs to be so that the seeds God is planting will be as productive as possible in the coming year. My anam cara – a good friend with whom I have shared much joy and heartache over the last 40 years – is my first go-to person. There are other friends, too, that I am recruiting as well as a circle of collaborators who I know will help keep me on the right track in my ministry. Perhaps you have a similar friend or a spiritual director you can enlist to help you enrich the soil of your heart over the next few weeks.
I am preparing for a spiritual retreat. This is something that I do every year after Christmas, but this year, I think it is more important than ever, so important, that I am planning to hold a webinar mid-January, so that you too can enter into a process of retreat and discernment with me. I am also pondering my three pieces of advice to myself from my last retreat in August –
- Be self-aware and tend to my self-care. For me, this requires a balance of physical, spiritual and emotional care. My contemplative times in the morning, my awe and wonder walks, and regular physical exercise are all elements that contribute to my self-care.
- Name the tensions. What destroys my sense of wonder and how do I adjust? When I am distracted, what do I have trouble naming and how does this lack of self-awareness make me vulnerable?
- Follow the stirrings. Be attentive to what your life says, maintain your freedom, enjoy God – only a few words but so much expressed in them. My attentiveness to my life can come through books that I read, people I speak to, imaginings that stir in my mind. It’s an exciting process but I sometimes think it isn’t one for the faint hearted. This discernment really is a way of life and we need to take it seriously every step of the way, painting the flexibility and resilience that it demands of us.
I am rereading my favourite books on discernment – Discernment by Henri Nouwen and The Way of Discernment by Elizabeth Liebert that are my constant companions in a discernment process. If these do not appeal to you, check out our The Art of Discernment Resource List for other possibilities.
So as Advent draws to a close and we prepare to celebrate both the birth of Christ and the ways that Christ is birthed in us during this season, how are you preparing your heart-soil so that the light-seeds and the joy-seeds God is planting will be most effective in the coming year?