Thursday’s Theme: Prayer
Advent is about prayer, just as prayer is about Advent. They weave in and through one another. Advent is the first season of the Christian year. Prayer is the spiritual practice that lives and breathes our faith. It is the season, the practice of slowing down, the season of preparing and the practice of waiting. All in one.
2020’s Advent is happening in the midst of a pandemic. This roller-coaster of feelings and emotions, this avalanche of news, this global tragedy now ordering our days. It is hard not to be swept away in the tsunami that is COVID. Here in the midst of this whirlwind, here - right here - Advent calls for us to pray.
Advent calls for us to slow down. Advent doesn’t tell us to quit or give up. It invites us instead to slow down. Prayer shifts me time and again from what is to what has always been and on to what is to be next. Prayers shifts me from rushing through this hour, from enduring this day to what is surrounding me, holding me in this moment? And time and again just that slowing down shifts my heart and sometimes even my head so that I am renewed – just enough to re-enter.
Prayer is about preparing. Often when I begin my prayer, I am mindful or fearful about what is missing. I’ll confess I’m often that gripey-prayer-person. Not always complaining, but often having a clear expectation of how things are supposed to be. And thank God, prayer is a muscle I know to use to get out of my own way. Advent’s invitation to prepare is not about getting out the tree ornaments and decorating the house. Instead, Advent’s preparation takes place inside of you and me. It is making room for what is better and what is next. It is emptying-out the stories and worries that have taken up space for long enough and serve us no more. Preparing the way will need room and prayerful practice to ready our spirits for what is yet to come.
Advent is the season of waiting. 2020 has taught us so much about waiting. Waiting to know when we go back to school or back to work. Waiting in line to vote and then for news of results. Waiting in line for COVID tests and then waiting for negative or positive news. Standing outside windows trying to create a “regular visit” with loved ones who are at risk by coming too physically close to us. Sitting and waiting at the bedside of loved ones who are dying. In our Advent-waiting, we are invited to follow a star. Maybe better than any other year in our lives, this year we best understand that this Advent’s waiting is happening in the dark.
When asked about Advent, Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, Advent’s celebration is “possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come." We know a weariness from this year, and our faults and shortcomings have shown themselves time and again. This journeying-to-Bethlehem season, this prayerful anticipation season surrounds us and holds us close now. So, we are invited, nudged, reminded to slow down and to prepare, and to wait. Even if this year we feel especially by ourselves, always, always God is with us in it.
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"Time is different here," I heard my Mom's voice say a couple months after her death. Journeying through these Covid-19 days, remind me of the gift of those words. You are invited companion me on this 2020 Advent journey to Bethlehem, as we seek Emmanuel, God who promises always to be with us.