Hurry Up… and Stop

Advent starts tomorrow.

Maybe your “Christmas season” started at 4:30am on Friday morning; maybe it started online on Thursday night.

Maybe you are already running at 150 miles and hour.

Maybe you are already stressed out due to family tensions and too-many-parties.

But maybe it doesn’t have to be that way.

Here’s a reminder: Advent is about waiting. 

If you don’t come from a liturgical background (I don’t, by the way), you may not realize that Christmas actually begins on December 25 and lasts for 12 days (hence the annoying song). The season that leads up to December 25 is called “Advent”, which literally means “the coming into being.”

If you follow the Christian calendar, Advent is a period of time reflect on the significance of the arrival of Jesus Christ into the world.

(Which is kind of a big deal…)

So maybe your holiday season has already begun with a frenetic—even pathological—tone. However, it does not need to remain that way.

After all, it doesn’t take a ton of effort to engage in some moments of reflection and thoughtful contemplation this season.

So here’s my question/challenge: What will you do over the next 25 days to slow down, to reflect, to rise above (or stay below, as the case may be) the Christmas (not Advent) madness? 

What if you set aside 10-20 minutes in the morning to reflect and stay silent (or maybe even begin a practice of centering prayer)?

What if you lit a candle each evening at dinner to remind yourself of this light that is “coming into the world”? (see John 1)?

What if you went through a book of Advent reflections?

What if you chose to read through a Gospel (or 2 even) during this season?

Christians are fond of saying, “Jesus is the reason for the season”, but most of us really don’t do anything to actually act like it. We tend to go about our business in much the same way as the rest of the world.

Could this December be different?

Here Be Dragons

On some ancient maps, unknown territories were marked by the phrase, “Here Be Dragons” (or as on this map, they Psalter_World_Map,_c.1265were simply drawn in). It was a way to alert people to the fact that beyond the pale, there was no way of knowing what you might encounter.

Silence and meditation—or mindfulness, ̛as it’s becoming known—is becoming popular spirituality, and its qualities are becoming widely known (I wrote it about a few months back). However, part of my experience with the practice of silence has definitely been along the lines of “Here Be Dragons.”

One of the first lessons I learned when I began to practice silence was that I was really good at covering stuff up. The noise in my life serves as anesthesia to the uglier parts of my soul. The more distracted I am, the less I need to look at the brokenness that flows through my life like a stagnant and rank river. Who wants to smell that? So I add more and more to my life, in the form of iPods, movies, television shows, Netflix, radio, iPhones, constant connectivity, and more and more meetings, people, and parties, all so I can ignore the junk. 

All so I can pretend the dragons don’t exist.

Silence and contemplation aren’t all peaceful, comfortable minutes of bliss.

For me, when I begin to quiet my spirit, my vision inevitably drifts beyond the known borders of my life, into the unknown.

Where the dragons are.

Does this sound overly scary or melodramatic? Maybe. I don’t know.

But I know that when you stop being distracted, stop numbing yourself, there’s nothing to take your gaze away from the stuff that lurks inside you.

Now here’s the good news.

When contemplation and silence is done right, you know you’re not alone. It’s tough sure, because lets face it, dragons are just scary (even when voiced by the oh-so-dreamy Benedict Cumberbatch), but we know that we don’t have to fear being crushed or destroyed, because … and this is amazing… 

God dwells beyond the borderlands as well.

Scripture tells us repeatedly that God is entirely at home silence, darkness, and wilderness. The monastics unabashedly declare, “Silence is God’s first language.”

All this adds up to the idea that, true, we may be strolling into Smaug’s lair, but we don’t walk alone.

It’s our job to sit,to quiet the distractions, and to find the scary parts of our souls.

But ultimately it’s God’s job to slay the dragons.

 

+e

 

 

The Terrifying Chair

photo-5 copy 2What lengths would you go to in order to hear the voice of God?

Assuming first that this word spoken, this whisper is actually the most important thing in the world—more important than our frenetic activity…

… more important than our church involvement

… more important than our spiritual gifts,

… more important than our agendas…

After all, Jesus heard this word spoken to him prior to anything he did. At his baptism, before his public ministry began, Jesus heard the words that I believe we are all ultimately longing to hear:

 “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.” (Mark 1:11 CEB)

In order to hear that, I’d like to believe that most of us would say, “Well, I’ll do anything!

And so that’s what we do. We sign on for the latest book, the latest bible study, the newest church, the best set of spiritual friends we can.

But lately I’ve been disturbed by something else.

In order to hear the voice of God, would you be willing to sit in a chair and do nothing for 6 hours? 

4 hours?

1 hour?

10 minutes?

Because most of the time that slowing down, that resting, that ceasing is what we need to do in order to hear that voice, that word, that whisper.

And most of us don’t want to go there; I know I hesitate.

Truth is, I hesitate because before I hear God’s voice, I know I’m going to hear a lot of other voices that aren’t nearly as pleasant….

… And they aren’t the least bit interested in calling me dearly loved. 

What I have found is that all my ministry activities and running and laughing and meetings and small groups and “churching” and serving and traveling and worship orders and presentations and writing(!) and one-on-ones and lunches and phone calls and coffee and committee meetings…

… are actually keeping these other, nastier voices at bay.

And at the first sign of me slowing down, they come roaring in.

This is terrifying, and I am tempted to start running again.

But one of the promises of faith that I am struggling to hold on to is the thought that God wants to speak—indeed already is speaking—this first word of belovedness to me and to you. 

I just have to hear it. I just have to hear it, and sometimes that means fighting through all these other voices, these shouts of death and destruction, in order to get to God’s voice. These other voices lie and tell me that they are my “first words”, but they’re not.

God has the first word in my life, and in yours…

And that first word is “In you I find happiness.” 

The invitation is…

  • slow down
  • fight through the voices
  • embrace the first word in your life

peace

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