advent reflections

I came across this quote recently and wanted to share it along with some things that have been swirling around in my head.

A waiting person is a patient person. The word patience means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something there will manifest itself to us. Patient living means to live actively in the present and wait there. Waiting, then, is not passive. It involves nurturing the moment, as a mother nurtures the child that is growing in her womb. Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, Simeon, an Anna were present to the moment. That is why they could hear the angel. They were alert, attentive, to the voice that spoke to them and said “Do not be afraid. Something is happening to you. Pay attention”… Much of our waiting is filled with wishes… we want the future to go in a very specific direction, and if this does not happen we are disappointed and can even slip into despair. That is why we have such a hard time waiting; we want to do the things that will make the desired events take place. Here we can see how wishes tend to be connected with fears. But Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, Simeon, and Anna were not filled with wishes. They were filled with hope. Hope is something very different. Hope is trusting that something will be fulfilled according to the promises and not just according to our wishes.

Henri Nouwen

I don’t know about you, but I could truly benefit from a hopeful, optimistic mindset right now. I have been feeling fear more than hope in the past few months and it has seemed to affect all things in my life. I think I have identified this season as one of waiting and transition, which is helpful, but it is a dark night of the soul season, and with that, all of my fears have come out to play. This season has whispered into my soul that it is time to confront the reality that life is uncertain and unknown, and not fixed to my ideas. It’s interesting, because uncertainty is always there, kind of just in the background and not obviously standing out. But for the past two years, uncertainty has made its way to the forefront of my consciousness and has decided to make itself known to me, flashing its bright, neon lights in front of me so I can’t miss it this time. These past few months, particularly, it feels like I have been groping around in the dark. I haven’t heard God’s voice clearly or felt that intuitive inner knowing; I haven’t felt much comfort, I have been riding waves of fear and experiencing crippling anxiety and nervousness. But what Nouwen speaks of is an ability to nurture these very moments – to open ourselves up to hearing and seeing God, and hearing and seeing not with our eyes and ears, but with our hearts and intuition. It is this very moment that I am being faced with so that I can be transformed and resurrected anew at the proper time. It is this moment that I am being invited to silence fear and open my heart to hear and see what is happening to me that is for my highest good and greatest joy.

This personal season just so happens to be coinciding with Advent this year and I am trying to start a new tradition for us to share together as a family during this sober time. Asher is 4, so it can be a little difficult to get him to sit still and listen, but we are trying. On the first Sunday of Advent, while Andy was putting Asher to bed after we read our Christmas story with him, I came downstairs to light the first candle of Advent. I found an Advent devotional on the trusty ol’ YouVersion Bible app, and read the first set of verses: Luke 1:26-38. There wasn’t much time, because Andy was having trouble getting Asher to sleep, so I read as quickly and yet as contemplatively as I could. And there it was, for the first time in a while, a sweeping wave of comfort from the Spirit, filling me with peace and love as I read these verses.

During the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, the angel Gabriel was sent from God’s presence to an unmarried girl named Mary, living in Nazareth, a village in Galilee. She was engaged to a man named Joseph, a true descendant of King David. Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Grace to you, young woman, for the Lord is with you and so you are anointed with great favor. Mary was deeply troubled over the words of the angel and bewildered over what this may mean for her. But the angel reassured her, saying, “Do not yield to your fear, Mary, for the Lord has found delight in you and has chosen to surprise you with a wonderful gift.”

Passage from the Gospel of Luke, verses 26-30

I read that and in that moment, could barely move on to finish reading the last 8 verses. It was as if the Spirit was speaking the words the angel spoke to Mary directly to me, in my current life circumstance. And since that moment, I have returned to contemplate these verses and to wonder and relate with Mary’s feelings in her own divine moment. Of course, if Gabriel showed up to deliver me a divine message, I imagine I would also be filled with fear. I would probably shit my pants! But it’s interesting to me what the angel told her. I wonder if she was listening or just suddenly shocked by the fact that a supernatural being was standing in front of her, because Gabriel told her that the Lord was with her and had anointed her with great favor (that is, of course, if Gabriel’s “appearance” was a literal one). And she was still afraid. This struck me so much because of my own dealings with the nature of fear in my life, particularly at present. I was in a moment, swept up by the Spirit, and feeling so closely connected to Mary, this highly favored woman who was also frozen in fear. But it’s what the angel says next that keeps entering my mind, especially when fear shows up for me. Gabriel says “do not yield to your fear, Mary.”

Do not yield to your fear. It wasn’t until a week later that I really began to imagine what this could look like. I began to imagine myself driving down the road toward my house and encountering the yield sign that always comes up as I turn to go home. And I began, in my mind, to replace the car with the right of way with fear and I watched myself pause and yield to it. Fear, then, went on in front of me, ahead of me. And it started to click a little bit. But I clearly have the choice to keep fear behind me and not ahead of me, leading the way. It seems like I have lived so much of my life yielding to fear, allowing it to lead and guide. Well, that is how I lived in my former life. My new life will look a lot more like listening to the Spirit instead of fear and yielding not to fear, but keeping it behind where it belongs.

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