Praying in Christmas

Join us in making the last 9 days of Advent extra-special by praying the O Antiphons with us, starting tomorrow. Here is a beautiful introduction:

 

The O Antiphons are Magnificat antiphons used at Vespers of the last seven days of Advent. We hear them also in the Alleluia verses of the Masses in the final days of the Advent season. Join us in this ancient way of intensifying our preparation for Christmas at: visit.pauline.org/ifollowlight. 

(You can also subscribe and receive an email each day linking to the newest O Antiphon.)

Seven More Advent Resources

What are you doing for Advent?

As Advent begins, I just wanted to highlight a couple of more Advent resources that I think could help us live this beautiful season with more light:

DiscernItScreen1) If you are discerning your vocation, then this Advent is extra special for you! Make a Discernment Novena with a wonderful new app that our sisters have just released:

Deepen your vocational discernment with  Discern It!,  a new, free app from the Daughters of Saint Paul to help those discerning their vocations.

This wonderful little app is a novena that provides the perfect atmosphere for deepening your vocational discernment, to understand how God is calling you to love. With  Discern It!  you will have the opportunity to:

◊ Do something daily to help you discover God’s plan for your life.

◊ Learn how to be more open to the gifts God wants to give you.

◊ Find out ways to move past the hurdles in discernment.

◊ Grow in your intimacy with God.

You can find out more about the app here, which also includes the links to download it for both iPhone and Android. The App is available free for the Year of Consecrated Life.

2. Father Barron is offering free Advent reflections. You can still sign up here.

3. Loyola offers an Arts & Faith commentary for each Sunday of Advent:  The Sunday Scripture reading is paired with a painting or other art, and commentary provided.

4. For religious, the Pope’s Apostolic Letter for the Year of Consecrated Life offers much to reflect on and pray with!

5. Sr. Theresa Aletheia’s post, Five Ideas to Kickstart Your Advent has five helpful hints for anyone.

6. For families, here’s another interesting and helpful post, Ten Ways to Have a Holier Advent.

7. For movie loves and Tolkien fans, The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies, releasing December 17th, could offer some insight on our Advent journey. The book has my favorite Humble Hobbit Moment–and I’m betting the movie will do a great job with it.

And finally, if you are looking for Advent “starters” and Christmas gifts, our Pauline website is offering special discounts for Cyber Monday (including for my new book, Soul of Christ: Meditations on a Timeless Prayer). Check it out!

The A’s of Advent for Writers: Alive!

My last “A” for Advent (borrowed from Father Richard Rohr’s Preparing for Christmas with Richard Rohr–Daily Meditations for Advent) takes us right into the season of Christmas: Alive! Advent is a season of waiting for new life.

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The “perfect imperfection” of three evergreens

The prophet Isaiah and the prologue of the Gospel of John make it very clear that God doesn’t stop creating. God is always giving us new life: The Father continually re-creates us in His love, sustaining our existence; the Son continually saves and heals us–no matter how much we struggle or fall into sin, we can always go to Him for forgiveness, strength, and healing; the Spirit continually guides and inspires us–He is the Fulfillment of Jesus’ promise to “be with us always.”

Christmas is a celebration of the new life of a Baby–both the most human of events and the most divine. The Infant Christ who takes His first breath in a musty stable also wants to come into the imperfect, stained stable of our hearts, so that He can bring us life. While we want to prepare our hearts to receive Him–that’s why we strive to live awake, aware, and alert!–the most important thing is that we open our hearts to Him, no matter what state they are in.

We are imperfect beings, and yet, God loves us in our imperfection. There is a solidity about the physical imperfection of our world, and a “realness” about our human imperfection. This “realness” is where God wants to enter in. Otherwise, the Lord would not have chosen to be born in a stable, but perhaps in a palace.

As writers, we also want to open our hearts to how the Lord can work through the imperfection of our writing. Writers who are like me are never satisfied with their work. Even after it is posted or published, we wish we could go back and tweak it, or in some cases, completely delete it.

If I wait to feel that any of the pieces that I write are “ready,” I would never publish anything. No one would ever see what I’ve written.

Yet, some of the pieces that I feel most vulnerable about are the ones that readers tell me moved them deeply. As a writer and communicator for the Christ Child born in a stable, I need to accept the imperfections of my work, knowing that those “faults” or “cracks” in my writing that I simply cannot fix may be just what is needed for someone else to deeply connect with what I’m trying to say.

As Catholics and as writers, we are called to live in newness of life this Christmas, and to share that abundance of life with others, notwithstanding our imperfections.

The A’s of Advent for Writers: Alert

I can’t believe we’re already halfway through the third week of Advent (and less than a week away from Christmas)! My third “A” for Advent (thanks to Preparing for Christmas with Richard Rohr–Daily Meditations for Advent by Father Richard Rohr) is Alert. I’m not speaking of a physical alertness. Instead, I think that Advent highlights the quality of spiritual “alertness” in our waiting. “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning” (Psalm 130:6).

Spiritual alertness springs from awareness in the present moment (see last week’s post), but focuses more on what is to come. What future does God have in store for us? Our future is twofold: the immediate future and the eternal “future” that we will enter at the end of our lives. According to the Advent readings, especially from the prophet Isaiah, God wants to give us a future of joy, peace, abundance, and, above all, fullness of life! But to receive these graces, we need to prepare to receive them. This is where spiritual alertness is helpful.

Sunrise from my bedroom window during retreat

Sunrise from my bedroom window during retreat

While I was making my 30 Day Spiritual Exercises in October, I arose early every morning to pray in the chapel, then returned to my bedroom to “pray in” the dawn. Those early morning moments of quiet intimacy with the Lord are something that I will always treasure. In waiting for the rising of the sun, I was practicing daily a state of alertness. I wasn’t just waiting, I was “looking for” the coming of the Lord, and this alertness accompanied me throughout the entire day of prayer.

Sometimes, when the Lord seems distant and we grow tired of praying in the silence, we might try to remember that “waiting for the Lord” and a ready state of spiritual alertness, while uncomfortable, may be one of the prayers that help us to grow the most–in faith, in hope, and in love.

Alertness is also, of course, a wonderful state of preparedness for us as writers, helping us to be more receptive to inspiration and new ideas, to see connections, to follow where our writing leads (not always easy to do). Especially when I’ve been away from writing for a while, I find it difficult to slip back into an alert mindset. One way that I try to do this is to take time the day before I delve back into writing to make a list of all the writing projects that I am working on or want to be working on, and prioritizing them. This somehow prepares my mind to start working on a writing project; in a way, I’ve given my mind a goal to start playing with for my future writing session. Then, when I start writing the next day, my mind has already been preparing for one of the top projects on my list. (I can’t always predict which project I’ll pick up to help me get back into a writing mode…but as long as I’m back into writing, I can eventually switch into the project with the first deadline.)  What are some ways that you, as a writer, “prepare to write”?

May these last days of Advent–the liturgical season where the Church goes on “high alert”–be a time of spiritual alertness for all of us, a time when we prepare our hearts to recognize and receive the joy and peace that the Lord wants to give us.

The A’s of Advent for Writers: Aware

p9150015-2012-12-9-10-39.jpgContinuing with our Advent journey as writers, I have borrowed the A-adjectives from Father Richard Rohr’s Preparing for Christmas with Richard Rohr–Daily Meditations for Advent, where he uses five adjectives to describe the attitude with which we want to approach Advent: awake, aware, alert, attentive, alive.

Aware: Scrabble™ or Words With Friends™ players will notice that there is only one letter difference between “awake” and “aware.” I believe that they are very related. While being awake has to do with discovering something new, e.g., “waking up to the truth,” awareness is a fruit of being awakened and, I believe, goes deeper.

Awareness is less about discovery and more about deepening, or listening in the moment. Awareness, mindfulness, being observant–these are important attitudes I want more of, both in my spiritual live and in my writing life. But I have a confession: I haven’t been doing this well for the past few months, because I’ve been living in hurry mode. I still have many commitments, but starting today I have the opportunity to manage stress and my deadlines a bit differently. These are some of the things I am starting today to live in greater awareness:

1) Take time to slow down as I begin to pray or write.
Although as a sister I pray a couple hours a day, if I don’t deliberately slow down, my prayer “races” and I tend to do all the talking and no listening. When I go to pray in the middle of the day, I am going to take ten extra minutes beforehand to take a walk or just sit quietly to let my whole body relax.

The same is true for my writing time–see #3 below.

2) Keep the drama on the page.
When I’m stressed, it’s easier to let minor annoyances grow into major disturbances. If I take twenty minutes to journal about what’s really bothering me, I can usually regain my perspective, decide what I need to do about it (if anything), and I’ve already loosened up my writing “muscles.”

3) Set aside time within my writing time for playfulness.
Juggling five or ten deadlines which I am barely meeting is deadly for my creativity. I still get that chapter written, but it is wooden rather than full of life. But, if I take ten minutes to journal or to play around with new ideas, the pay-off in my writing quality is immediate. A side benefit? I’ve also given myself a little space to breathe, which keeps me calmer and improves my outlook throughout the day!

These may be unusual Advent practices, but they all have to do with listening better, which is what Advent awareness is all about. Listening is essential to awareness: whether I’m listening to my own body or my subconscious, the subtext in a conversation, or the Lord’s invitations.

Advent and Christmas tend to be busy times for all of us, which is why it becomes even more important to snatch just a few minutes of slowing down, so that we can improve our listening and awareness.

The A’s of Advent for Writers: Awake

IMG_0069-2012-12-3-09-02.jpgIn St. Anthony Messenger’s Press booklet, Preparing for Christmas with Richard Rohr–Daily Meditations for Advent, Father Rohr uses five adjectives to describe the attitude with which we want to approach Advent: awake, aware, alert, attentive, alive. These adjectives fit very well into a writer’s approach to his or her writing as well. But my favorite adjective of the five is awake, because it encompasses the other four.

Awake: The advent of winter–for those of us in the northern hemisphere–is a powerful reminder of the changing seasons of our lives. Another year is passing! Of all the seasons in the northeast, winter is hardest to ignore. The cold invigorates. Stepping outdoors from the cozy warmth of our home immediately perks up our senses, no matter how much our shivers protest.

Advent is the Church’s invigorating call to awaken to the meaning of life, and to the invitation to eternal life with the Christ-who-comes. Every time we “wake up” to the reality of the shortness of our lives, we want to take advantage of the gift of each moment. When we reflect that Jesus is inviting us to share in the fullness of life with Him, our time here becomes not only precious, but hope-filled. We have an eternity of joy to look forward to, if we take the opportunity to get ready now.

Advent is meant to wake us up spiritually, to enliven our spiritual perception.

The awakened state of Advent helps me as a writer. Part of being a writer is striving to be always “more” awake, because sleepiness kills creativity. When I am looking for an idea, whether I’m writing an article or a chapter, what I’m really doing is hoping to be awakened. I’m looking to discover something new, to make new connections, to see a new insight. The more spiritually awake I am, the more likely I am to make a new connection or see something in a new way. Even if I am not writing specifically about faith and I’m not describing the Something More for Whom we all long, that longing for the Eternal and sense of the incompleteness of our lives is infused in my writing.

Advent reminds us that our lives here on earth are a gift for the moment and a preparation for eternal joy with God. This perspective of faith makes every moment, every detail of our lives, precious. As a writer, if I can cherish the luminosity behind the day-to-day of my life, my writing will inevitably help others to awaken to the radiance hidden in their everyday lives.