Advent’s always a bit of a schizophrenic season for me. The dark and quiet and calm that come with shorter days mixes mostly chaotically with the frenzy of end-of-semester papers and Christmas shopping. The thing is, when I stop and take a breath, when I take a moment to actually feel how I feel, I find that I want to slow down, to practice patience, to unearth whatever desires are tucked away beneath my task list. When I slow down and breathe I have this sense that I want Advent; that it would be good for me.
So in an effort to put these desires into practice, I thought I’d put together a quick list1 of places around the web that might help. I came up with seven. Hope you find them helpful as well.
1. “Advent is about Desire” – Or so says my brother-in-the-Lord James Martin, SJ over at the America Magazine group blog In All Things. In a short post, he writes there about how Advent is a time to take seriously our deep desires, the desires “that lead us to become who we are, [and which] are God’s desires for us. They are ways that God speaks to you directly, one way that, as St. Ignatius Loyola says, the ‘Creator deals directly with the creature’. ”
He gives examples: “the beautiful readings from the Book of Isaiah, which… describe how even the earth longs for the presence of God,” and: “the wonderful O antiphons sung at evening prayer… towards the end of Advent [which] speak of Christ at the ‘King of Nations and their Desire’.” In case you haven’t heard them before, or even if (like me) you just want to be reminded of how lovely they can be, here’s a great version of the “O Adonai” antiphon which will be sung on 18 December. This one was recorded by the Dominican student brothers studying in Oxford.
2. The Jesuit Refugee Service’s Annual Advent Retreat – For the past few years JRS (whose mission is accompanying, serving and advocating on behalf of refugees) has made available an Advent retreat told through the stories of refugees. They are unfailingly powerful. Take this one, from day 11 of the retreat, by Gary Smith, SJ (author of the lovely book They Come Back Singing); he writes:
“One Christmas Eve, while serving in… northern Uganda, I celebrated Mass for the Sudanese refugees at the poor village of Agulupi. We were in a small thatch-covered chapel. It was a hot night, thick with humidity. An army of flying bugs. Lots of dust. A kerosene lamp hung on a wooden pillar to the right of the altar.
“There were young girls dancing and singing in front of the altar. In one hymn, they imitated the wailing of the new baby Jesus, forearms over their eyes; it was an echo, too, of weeping Sudanese refugees lamenting their flight from a civil war: their losses and their suffering. And yet in spite of all the stinking poverty of Agulupi and the heartache of the past, these moments — just as with Christ’s birth in a barn — pointed toward hope and meaning.
“…You want to follow Christ? Then begin here.”
I find that these short stories almost always move my heart and challenge my priorities – both good activities to engage in during an Advent that I hope will be about unearthing deep desires.
3. Creighton University’s Online Ministries: Praying Advent – I know I should never say never where God is concerned, but… I probably never would have been a Jesuit if I hadn’t gone to Creighton University. Of the many things I love about Omaha’s Jesuit University,2 it’s the spirit of comradery and mutual support that stands out to me. And I can say with some confidence that that holy spirit is captured by the genuinely amazing work done by Maureen Waldron and Andy Alexander, SJ on their “Online Ministries” website.
The resources they provide for Advent are equal to such high standards. Recognizing that “the busyness of this season serves to distract us from having an Advent season that truly prepares us for the celebration of Christmas” they try to offer a “collection of simple ways to enter into this Advent season, week by week, in the midst of our everyday lives.”
My personal favorite of these simple ways are the Audio Retreats offered by the Tiresias of Omaha, Larry Gillick, SJ. If I can offer a suggestion: grab a cup of morning coffee, sit down in your favorite chair, and listen to one of the wisest men I’ve met discuss how to go about living life with God.
4. The Advent Conspiracy – This is anything but a pandering nod to ecumenical inclusion, because the Advent Conspiracy is the real deal. They start with facts that resonate (with me at least): we want our Christmas to be packed with joyful memories, we want it to be about Jesus, but all too often it’s filled with too much travel, too much stress and too much frustration (and too often that frustration is about money).3 The Advent Conspiracy remedy to this sickness comes in four steps: (1) Worship Fully, (2) Spend Less, (3) Give More, and (4) Love All. Each of those can be explored more fully on their site, but you can check out their (smoothly produced) promo video right here:
Giving the gift of presence? That sounds lovely. We might just have unearthed one of those deep desires. Nice work Advent Conspiracy.
5. Busted Halo’s Advent Surprise Calendar – I don’t know if you ever feel similarly, but sometimes it’s more an entertaining burst of prayerful amusement that I’m after, which means that Busted Halo’s Advent Surprise Calendar is the place to go. Taking it’s cue from the traditional Advent calendar (and who doesn’t love Advent calendars?! Also, when I was a kid I may or may not have infuriated my sisters by opening each day’s window a week ahead of time and stealing whatever lay behind it), the Busted Halo version gives us a picture-clue about what each day holds, but won’t let us find out what lies behind each picture until that day arrives. (Way to ruin an older brother’s fun Busted Halo.) Although I might resist such patience lessons at times, with pictoral clues ranging from Gollum to Margaret Thatcher to Cornell West, I’ll admit that my interest is peaked.
6 & 7. More Ignatian Stuff – Two last things if you just can’t get enough4 of an Ignatian Advent.
First comes the Advent Discernment Series from the God in All Things website. The first installment of their weekly series is called “Discerning Advent: Darkness.” It includes a reflection (in both written and audio format) on accepting the raw material of our feelings that we bring to discernment – no matter where we are: “We may feel we’re in the dark… waiting for a sign or a flicker of light. We may, on the other hand, feel like we’re in a whirl of confusion, feelings, emotions, and choices. These things are the raw material of discernment.” Sounds an awful lot like what I’m looking to make time for this Advent.
And second, if the seven (holy number!) of resources listed here aren’t enough, you can check out this list of Advent resources put together by Ignatian Spirituality. Aside from their list (which is not nearly as cool as mine for the sole reason that it’s not numbered) they’ve also put together a video series which will feature one video a week for the four weeks of Advent. I was impressed that the first of these videos, by Joe Paprocki, finally makes the connection between Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and Advent for which I have long waited.
In the midst of the travels and the tasks and the expectations that the holiday season brings, it also brings a chance to unearth – again – the deep desire of my life: to live with God, to pray the first of those great O antiphons:
O Holy Word of God,
You govern all creation with your strong, yet tender care.
Come, and show your people the way to salvation.
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