For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope.
Here in the Abbey, we have learned a little bit about watching and waiting. Perhaps the most important lesson we have in stock could be summarized in this: we just do it, and in the doing, something else has to give. While that may not sound too inviting, we have found that most of us have things ready to be sloughed off, anyway!
There is, moreover, a secret to be shared. At times, two things can become one. For instance, a walk in the woods is great exercise and can become a full hour of thanksgiving, with only the birds and badgers to hear what the Lord is hearing as we walk along together.
Many of us learned years ago, long before we turned toward a monastic vocation, that an hour with a restless infant can be either resented or rewarded. Nursing and rocking a baby to sleep is the ideal opportunity for a short season of stillness and Adoration. As mentioned, something often must give way, and here let it be anxiety and entertainment for a few holy minutes. Some of us have grandchildren to coax and cuddle, but for the rest of us, we can take the time we used to take … it is still ours to devote. Remember how Sesame Street used to wake them up just as they were drifting off? So we turned it off, and we can do the same with the Home Shopping Network!
When the goal is Christ and the path is the love of His Presence, we find a way. Even during the bustling holiday months. Here are a few Advent opportunities for you. Some may surprise you.
Take Tea! … Each day during Advent, we schedule an afternoon tea, and we make it serve two purposes. We have a cup of coffee or tea in the afternoon with one slice of a Christmas cake or a couple of cookies to savor. We plan on it, and while we don’t customarily fast during this season, it’s hard for monastics to give over all boundaries of discipline, so we make that little treat the only sweet of the day. We are especially careful not to eat between meals (that is stock practice in the Abbey,) not to sample all the baking that goes on and not to allow other treats, with the result that our Advent Tea becomes an especially welcome diversion. With Christmas music on the stereo and the tree lights sparkling, we allow half an hour to sit in silence at the table with the Lord we love. This is also one of the best times available for the daily Advent reading.
Trim the Tree … every day during Advent! Besides the store of ornaments that have pride of place every year when decorations come out, keep a special box of D.L.F. (Dear Little Friends!) pieces, each one representing some special person, perhaps a Desperate Little Friend, someone in trouble spiritually or emotionally or circumstantially, or just a dear and distant loved one, and take even just a couple of minutes out the day to pray for them, to bless them, to be thankful for them as their special ornament is added to the tree. Remember throughout the day in prayer and maybe even with a phone call or a note!
Seize the Holiday Moment … There are so many opportunities to turn this season into an unending orchestration of special, prayerful, worshipful events. As we said before, something has to give, but often it is no more than a single minute or two, not rushing headlong into the next bit of bustle. We can take the extra time to pray for those who send us Christmas cards. A few moments of prayer before we put their cards away will make a difference that no prayer at all can never make! We can pray and be deeply grateful for others as we wrap their gifts. It’s fun to find time alone, surrounded by ribbon and paper and gift tags, and pray out loud as we cut and snip and fold and fluff!
Beyond the Bell Ringers! … Those noisy neighbors, the ones that work on their cars at 1:00 in the morning and put their dogs out to bark at 5:00, the ones with weeds and trash and kids that spill over into your yard … if you have had to ask them to hold it down when they party into the night, if you have had to ask them to keep their children from stealing all the peaches off your tree, this is the time of year when a plate of cookies or a basket of brownies or a spray of mistletoe can be given in friendship and can pour oil on troubled waters. Pray and go! Bless them to the heavens, and then cross the street. Take a couple of chocolate snow men or a jump rope and a Hackie Sac for the children, make friends with unrighteous mammon (let your Christmas budget work for you!) and go ring their doorbell. It’s Christmas! It’s okay to be full of good cheer. At worst, your blessing will come back on you!
This is Advent displacement at its best! God bless you in it!