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

Grieving Your Way Through The Holidays

close-up of Santa in despair

The first holiday season after the loss of a loved one can be REALLY hard. I know this because I’m living through it right now. My mom died in March and the tears started up again at Thanksgiving — and they haven’t stopped since. The thing is, my mom was crazy about Christmas. I’m talking “Buddy the Elf” crazy about Christmas. It was irritating, really. So now I’m left with two feelings.

  1. Everything about Christmas reminds me of her. I miss her and her childlike joy of the season.
  2. I wish I could go back in time and enjoy her enthusiasm about the holiday instead of being irritated by it — ugh, regret is a hard thing.

Example: Mom would buy every kind of battery powered Christmas toy that moved or made noise (Santa, Rudolf, Snowman). One of her favorite things was to line up all these toys and have the kids try to race them. She was always way more interested in this race than the kids were, as the toys didn’t really walk in a straight line but limped around in circles or tipped over while banging their cymbals. (See me standing off to the side with the eye roll?)

 

She also had the annoying habit of buying motion activated Christmas toys that would burst into song whenever you walked by. These were very startling and I hated them. Although one year I did get some prurient joy from hiding one particularly obnoxious toy all over the house so she would set it off in the pantry, the kitchen cabinet, or the bathroom. (See me with a Grinch-like grin?)

 

Now I long to go back. To cheer on old Rudolf or praise the purchase of yet another obnoxious toy. I will never get another chance to jump up and down with her like Buddy the elf, “It’s Santa! It’s Santa!”  I can’t. It’s too late. (See the tears falling? Important note: Never try to write a blog about the loss of your mama during downtime at work. It’s really hard to explain why the new school counselor is crying).

 

I’ve asked my friends who have negotiated loss to share their wisdom about how to survive the holidays. Their outpouring of love and encouragement has been wonderful, and their ideas are really helpful. I thought I’d share them with you, in case you are going through this with me. And if you have any ideas to share, I would love to hear them!

Crowd Sourced Wisdom about How to Survive the Holidays after a Loss:

Robert: I found this book incredibly helpful after my Mum died. I did some of the exercises it recommended (wrote her a letter, made up a memory book). I commend it to you. 

Brooke: You do whatever feels right to you. If it feels right to make her favorite cookies say… Do it. If it doesn’t feel right to do it without her… yet, don’t. Cry whenever it hits you, and hard… sob if you want to, it’s healthy. There are no rules for grieving through a holiday – just be there for yourself like you would a friend.

Leanna:  Wish I had some magic advice to give. I lost my mom shortly before Christmas four years ago—very rough. Luckily I have a tight-knit family which I believe helped give us all some added strength during the holidays. Together, we got through it.

Peggy: Your mom was one of my favorite friends and she and I had a blast together both at work and just fun. My entire family has passed on except for my children and their families. I lost my hubby when I was 39. I don’t think I’ll ever get over any of it, but I find lighting a candle for them before Mass has certainly helped me remember their goodness and ask them to pray for me. You can bet your mom is always on that prayer.

Sharon: The first Christmas without my mom was rough. She made Christmas magical for the grandkids.

Karen:  It’s really a tough time.
And time is what you get… take time to enjoy the memories

Julie: Tell funny stories so that family will remember her with a smile and not tears.

Debi:  It’s not easy

Nancy:  I visited the town I grew up in and met with some high school friends from years past. It helped me feel closer to her.

Angela: It’s tough to do. I find if I keep busy I don’t think of my dad as often and I just remember the good memories we shared on Christmas. It’s been almost five years and I still find it tough. Draw close to those you love and good friends and family help too!

Bill:  Feel the feelings and go ahead and have a good cry when you need to, later you can cry then laugh and cry again.

Rebecca: My first Christmas also without my mom and dad. Feelings are all over the place. Looking at it but must admit escaping to Kansas to be with kids and grands. Entering their chaos this Christmas will help. Praying for you.

Naomi: I agree with Bill. I just kept sacrificing the pain to God and trusting that he had us all in his hands. Feel what you need to feel and do what you feel you need to do to grieve – whatever it is!

Julie:  Write her a love letter full of memories and promises that you will see her again and how wonderful that will be!

Christy:  All these are wonderful ways to help. I found spending time with the little ones in the family really makes it easier. New fresh spirits brighten the day.

Cindy: Jacci listen to “a different kind of Christmas” by Mark Schultz

Tammy: With our recent loss of our young son-in-law, and my mentor’s help, I’m learning the important connection of deeply and specifically counting our losses, mourning those, one by one, and then learning to receive the Lord’s comfort on each. In other words, the loss of Ben is central towards seemingly endless losses. The loss of a father for my grandson, the loss of marriage for my daughter, her loss of her best friend, the loss of my relationship with him, etc. ALL these need their own mourning and comfort in order for deep healing and meeting Jesus there. So, to recap, Losses need mourning, which needs comfort (felt and real) from Jesus. My grief book encouraged those who have a loss to actually put themselves in situations and places that cause grief and mourning or trigger it. We are so good at avoiding pain, but the heart is still wounded if we avoid.

Dear Friends, your love and wisdom is overwhelming. Thank you! Anyone else want to weigh in?