Spiritual Practice: Mindfulness During Advent

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mind·ful·nessˈmīn(d)f(ə)lnəs/ noun

– the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.

– a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

The word mindfulness is everywhere these days. I’m quite enjoying it, actually. I need to learn to be fully present in my body and to others. It is one of my greatest spiritual formation challenges: To stay in the moment; to be here, now – with myself, with you, and with God.

ad·vent /ˈadˌvent/ noun

– the first season of the Christian church year, leading up to Christmas and including the four preceding Sundays.

-Advent is a season observed in many Christian churches as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas as well as the return of Jesus at the second coming.

In the faith tradition, I was brought up in there is no celebration of Advent, so I’m a newbie and I love it. What I have since learned about advent is that it helps slow me down and savor the season instead of dashing to stores, decorating the house, baking, worrying about finances. These activities do not lend themselves to mindfulness. That’s why I’m learning to enjoy advent. It helps me slow down and anticipate the birth of Christ before all the craziness.

At many churches, an Advent wreath sits on the altar and each week a different candle is lit to represent Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace. The center candle is The Christ candle. These are very good things to focus on, helping us to slow down and be mindful during the holiday season.

My dear friend, Deana Rogers wrote a beautiful Advent guide.  It’s called, Wrapped in Grace: The birth story that changes everything.  It is a beautifully illustrated slim edition.

When I was reading this book, I came across the word, “Mindfulness.” It was in the story where Mary (Jesus’ mom, freshly pregnant with him) goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth (who is old, not supposed to have kids, pregnant with John the Baptist). Mary launches into a song, which the author explains is very similar to other songs women have sung throughout the Bible. In it Mary says:

“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.”

In this story (New International Version) in the gospel of Luke, God is said to be “mindful of Mary.”

God, the power of the universe, the one who holds it all together, is fully present with Mary.

God knows her circumstances (an unwed teenager, carrying a baby that does not belong to her fiancé). God also knows her heart.

If God was mindful of Mary and chose to use her to (literally) carry out God’s will, it occurred to me that God is also mindful of us. God knows our circumstances, however, messed up they may be. God knows our hearts, and many of us may be hurting this year. God is not concerned that we are too young, like Mary, or too old, like Elizabeth. God can and will use us to carry out Divine good on earth.

What was Mary’s end of the deal?  To say yes. Yes, yes, yes.

This advent season, I want to be fully present to myself (what God is doing within me).  I want to be fully present to others (what God is doing in the world); I want to be fully present to God (to help carry out Divine plans). That is what I’m pressing into this Advent Season.

In what ways are you being mindful this Advent Season?

Photos: Advent WreathDeana’s Book

Spiritual Practice: Behold

tree stump

No matter who won or lost during this midterm election, some of us will be disappointed. My first reaction, if things don’t go MY way, is to crawl into a cave and curl up into a ball to hide.

Maybe it’s time for a broader perspective. At Eugene Peterson’s recent funeral, his son Leif summarized his lifelong message about God: “God loves you. He is on your side. He is coming after you. He is relentless.”

God is coming after us with relentless love. God won’t give up loving and pursuing us so that God can be on our side. God is not dismayed by elections.

On a recent Sunday, my pastor had the kids come up to the front of the sanctuary for the kids’ sermon. This is one of my favorite parts of the service as there is usually a profound message made simple. She asked the little ones, “when you see something interesting, or amazing or intensely sad, what do you say to your friends?”

They answered with phrases like, “Hey, look at this!” Which is exactly what she hoped they would say. She said that in the old Bible times they had a great word for that which we don’t use anymore: “Behold!” Behold means, “to look deeply or pay close attention.” She encouraged them to spend the week looking for God in the everyday things. like seeing a beautiful flower, or a  playful puppy, or experiencing something sad. Then to say to whoever was near, “Behold!”

She had them practice and it was really cute as they shouted, “Behold!” I could just picture them in the Walmart cereal aisle, arms outstretched to the Frosted Sugar Bombs yelling, “Behold!”

What a profound idea this is. Here I am, all set for political disappointments, ready to crawl into a cave when I should be looking harder for God in my neighborhood, in those I meet, in nature, in those who voted differently than I did. God is everywhere, in everything, and elections don’t bother a God who has a longer view of history than we do.

Behold!

beauty from ashes

Today, I was sitting outside and saw this old tree stump. It was starting to decay but there was something red on it and I got closer to see if maybe a fall leaf had settled on it. Nope, there was this beautiful, hopeful little red plant springing up from the decay. BEHOLD!

I was reminded of the verse that says, “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” Isaiah 43:19

God doesn’t want us to lose hope. God wants to make beauty from our ashes and new life from our desolation. We need to put on our God goggles and look hard, pay close attention, and BEHOLD!

 

How are you coping post-election? This is a safe place to vent your pain regardless of your political affiliation.

Photo Credit, Mine.