It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Well not quite yet, but hey, it’s almost Advent! So we’re nearly there!
Advent can easily be glossed over by many, myself included, but in doing so, we actually neglect its necessary place in the liturgical year. A “new beginning”, a “fresh start”, somewhere to “begin again”, these are some of the ways we can describe the transitioning from an old liturgical year to a brand new one. However, Advent is more than just a season of anticipation, but also one of dwelling, and revival in our spiritual journey!
As Christians, Advent presents an opportunity to reset and dwell with the Lord. St. Anselm shares a prayer that goes, “Turn aside for a while from your daily employment, escape from the tumult of your thoughts. Put aside your worries. Leave your heaviest worries to one side, make space for a time for God. Enter the inner chamber of your soul. Shut out everything except God, and that which can help you in seeking him, and when you have shut the door, seek him. Now, my whole heart, say to God, I seek your face, Lord, it is your face I seek.” (The Prayers and Meditations of St. Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury)
To dwell doesn’t imply adding a million things to our to-do lists in our pursuit of the Lord, thinking that it’ll make us holier, but instead, it means to settle into the season, and intentionally examine the areas in our lives that God wants us to look at. To set aside time, to move with Him without our own agendas or directions, and to let Him point out what we need to sit with and grow in.
While leaving everything in God’s hands can be difficult to grasp, there is hope in knowing that He knows us more than we even know ourselves (Romans 8:27). So the God who knows, is sure to guide us to explore the exact areas of our hearts that we need to examine, to grow in our relationship with Him. He is trustworthy.
As for myself, God is using this season of my life to reveal the deep longing that is within my heart. A longing to be loved by Him and to let that love be shared. He is inviting me to get in touch with these longings and to allow it to teach me more about myself and where I feel called to be. It is within this season of dwelling that He desires for me to intuit His Kingdom. That as I learn more about myself and His call for me, the more I can firmly come to believe in His great purpose for my life and that in itself builds hope.
Similarly, Jesus uses these longings as invitations, He invites us to expand our understanding of our wants, that they are not something to be denied or repressed but something to be entered into, and are the deep seeds of hope that He desires us to possess. These longings have and will bring about a further revival of our relationship with the Lord.
Admittedly, time is something that may be hard to set aside, especially as we try to discover the optimal time frame for us to have a ‘successful’ time in prayer (e.g., finding that perfect slot of 40 minutes for reflection in our day). This is a struggle that I’ve come to know all too well. In this season of desiring to dwell with the Lord, I found myself being too fixated on the idea that my prayer needs to look a certain way, “I really should start my day with Lauds” or “my holy hour needs to be an hour for it to count” are just some things that prevent me from beginning to pray. But I’ve come to learn that there is no such thing as a “perfect” way of praying, instead there is a way of knowing perfect love Himself, Jesus Christ. God just wants you. Not a fixed amount of time but simply put, all of you, whatever you’ve got. He can and will use our five loaves and two fishes, and multiply whatever we offer to Him. I am thankful to God for His gentleness in welcoming me back into an awareness of His loving embrace, even if it meant that it did not look as I intended it to look like. So how can we find time to dwell?
I would like to propose that we assemble our own unique spiritual toolbox, one that acknowledges our limitations and longings, and still gives us the room to want to spend time with the Lord daily. Here are some suggestions to get you started:
1) Find a prayer activity that speaks to you (e.g., Rosary, Divine Office, Spiritual Readings, Personal time of Praise and Worship, etc…)
This can be aligned with your longings and to your season. For example, if you find yourself wanting to spend time unwinding by spending time on Spotify, how about adding a few spiritual podcasts into the mix? The Ascension Presents, Restore the Glory and Abiding Together podcasts are a few good examples. Make it an intentional experience by having your journals with you as you listen and note what resonates with or speaks to you. Should you ever need inspiration as to how to pray next, you can always return to these notes. As you progress in your spiritual journey, you can also look back on your journal and find encouragement in your growth!
2) Acknowledge your wants and longings during your time of prayer.
Knowing how you are, or desiring to find out how you are, is an absolute necessity in nourishing our soul in prayer. We need to allow the Lord to enter into the depths of our hearts and see what aches it, for Him to show us the best ways to pray and return to Him. A lack of knowing that you desire silence and rest for example, could be the reason why flooding your prayer time with music or videos isn’t bringing you the peace you intend to find. Allow the Lord to show you new ways that help you come to sit with Him with a peaceful heart.
3) Desire to want to commit a time to Him, EVERYDAY. Set it, be accountable to it.
We often hear that growing in prayer is like building a muscle, consistency is key. That statement is entirely true, not so much so because we desire to get spiritually muscular, but instead it is important as the Lord gets to remind us daily of our identity as beloved children of God. This is the truth that frees us from the daily lies that may often shackle us. So set a fixed time with the Lord, do not set limitations upon the duration, and let Him take the lead in your journey to freedom.
I hope that these 3 simple steps can be a start in helping you step into the new liturgical year! My brothers and sisters, at the end of the day, Advent is about preparing for the celebrations that are about to come! The celebration of the coming of our Lord. So the real question to ponder is, are you really ready for His arrival? Realising that you are relatively free to do what you know is going to help you prepare for it the best, is what the season of Advent is all about. Father Mike Schmidt said it best, “ You can only be ready, if you get ready”. My prayer for you is for a fresh outpouring of desire to want to know the Lord and to live life differently in anticipation for His arrival this Advent season! God Bless!