Happy Advent, everyone! Hard to believe it’s here already. It’s the beginning of a new year for the Church, a new cycle through the liturgical seasons, and the perfect time to discern where Jesus is calling me to go this year.
So I’m listening, trying to figure out how to follow him more closely. Lately, it’s become clear to me that there are a lot of voices easier for me to hear than his. I’ve been conforming to the ways of the world instead of being transformed by the renewing of my mind. I need to listen to the Spirit, a still small voice which is often so hard to hear, and not harden my heart to it.
I’m feeling called to do a few simple things intensely this year. I was just reading another wonderful book by Henri Nouwen called Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life. The book gives guidelines for building a spiritual life that can move you from loneliness to solitude, from hostility to hospitality, and from illusion to prayer. The basic elements of spiritual life, according to Nouwen, are three:
1. Reading of the Word/Scripture
2. Silent prayer
3. Spiritual guidance/direction
Something clicked when I read Nouwen’s words. I’m being called to focus on all of these things right now, things that may seem basic but which I still struggle to embrace consistently and prayerfully. I want to form small, sustainable good habits this year (15 minutes of prayer, a psalm before bed, a letter written to a spiritual mentor) that can grow and invade my whole life like a mustard tree from a tiny seed, like swelling dough from invisible yeast.
I don’t want these guidelines to be burdensome for me. My New Year’s resolutions often are, often have a subtle tone of Be better this time! No, listening to Jesus in the Word, in silence, in the voices of respected teachers, should help me lay down my burdens and be healed.
Even as I work on basics, the small things, I’m also feeling called to stretch myself. Doing things that scare me is the true test of my faith, and I want to be engaged with the world, like Jesus was. So in addition to my more personal, internal efforts, I’m also going to try this year to engage issues of justice in a peaceful, respectful, caring way that embodies my Christian values.
To guide my thoughts and actions and writings about justice, I plan to use the lovely little book Common Prayer: Pocket Edition. Every month, this book gives a value of the New Monastic movement to focus on, to read about, and practical ways to put faith into action (as the book puts it, “becoming the answer to our prayers”). The value for December is “living in the abandoned places of empire” – a pretty appropriate meditation, I think, as we go deeper into that Empire-led season of consumerism.
Again, my aim in all this shouldn’t be political correctness or alleviated feelings of guilt, but rather a commitment to listen more closely to those red-letter words of the Bible, the teachings of Jesus, and not just to listen, but also to act.
I hope you’ll enjoy the ride this year, and as always, thank you for journeying with me as I seek to fall ever more in love with Jesus.
As we enter the season of Advent, do you have any thoughts about how you want to grow spiritually in the coming year?