Photo by Sr. Mary Emmanuel Alves, FSP
Advent feels like it has arrived early, but it is a wonderful season for jumpstarting creativity, both in our writing lives and in our spiritual lives. Here are a few parallels I’ve been pondering: maybe they can inspire us to live Advent in such a way that we grow both spiritually and as writers.
Hiddenness & creativity
Advent is the season of hidden service which brings forth new life.
During Advent, we ponder how Our Lady prepared in countless little ways for the birth of the Son of God. We ponder with her the mystery of how she carried the Lord of heaven and earth in her womb. As far as we know, no one but Elizabeth recognized Mary as Mother of the Messiah. Did Mary know that her acceptance of the immense call to serve as Mother of God would put her life at risk more than once?
The Incarnation is mysterious at all times and places, but especially in the Infancy of the Son of God. During the weeks before his birth, Jesus, the Son of God and Lord of all creation, was hidden from the world as a preborn infant. He humbly “hid” his divinity because he came into this world to serve, not to be served; to save us and give his life for us.
Advent can inspire our hidden creativity. Unless we are posting everything on social media, our writing is hidden. (And even in those moments when we are composing our best social media posts, the composing is a hidden step.) The best writers seek to serve the Truth and their readers. Writing, as any process that generates, is both a service and somewhat mysterious. How do we get new ideas? From where does the inspiration to write come? How do we know what we are supposed to write? And how many times has it happened that the piece of writing that we are most insecure about is the one that touches others more deeply?
During Advent, we can consciously choose to nurture our creativity and sense of service. It can be as simple as lighting a candle while we write, squeezing in a few (more) minutes a day to write, or praying to the Blessed Mother for the grace to open us more fully to the inspiration of the Spirit. Or it can be more thoughtful, such as finding a way to “hide” a spiritual truth in something we are writing, and then reveal it at the end in an unexpected way.
Advent inspires us to go on a journey. Everybody loves new beginnings and Advent, perhaps more than any other Church season, seems to offer this opportunity. Advent is only four weeks long, just long enough to help us create a new pattern in our lives, but not so long that we will become discouraged or lose focus.
All of the major figures in the Christmas narrative (Mary on her visit to Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, the shepherds in search of the angel-sung Messiah, the Magi in search of a newborn King) are on a journey with one focus: to discover and welcome Christ.
What is our focus for our journey this Advent?
One blessing of being a writer is that new experiences open us to new insights. A journey—whether interior or external—offers us the opportunity for new experiences.
During the two winters that I lived downtown in the wonderful city of Chicago, I’d occasionally start to feel skyscraper-locked. I learned to bundle up in as many layers as I could fit under my coat, walk over to a nearby park and contemplate the city—and my problems—from the lakefront. It was amazing how simply moving to a fresh-aired perspective could help me to see my problems in a whole new light, giving me the hope, courage, and insight to approach them from a new direction.
If we have already prayerfully resolved to take on a certain practice for Advent, let us stick to it, allowing that resolution or new practice to become the way we focus our attention on Christ. If we haven’t chosen a focus for Advent yet, maybe this first week we can take some time to prayerfully do that. This new practice or resolution can become our “Advent journey,” that opens us up to fresh insight.
During this Advent, maybe we can try to take our readers on a journey through something we write. Perhaps we can use aspects of our interior Advent journey as metaphors for a fictional journey we are writing about. As writers, we always want to help our readers to be transformed, to go on a journey—however long or short it may be—so that by the end of the journey they have grown, changed, or received new insight for their own lives.
Advent is a time of listening for the voice of the Lord, of discerning the presence of God in our lives.
One way to prepare to receive Jesus more fully into our hearts is to listen for him, to be attentive to his presence. How many people in the Scriptures we read at Christmas don’t recognize who Jesus truly is!
God is present in our lives in many ways, and seems to delight in surprising us. Like the virgins waiting for the bridegroom in the parable, we want to have our lamps lit and our hearts ready to recognize him. We can learn to recognize him more quickly and easily by spending time with God in those ways and places where we already recognize him, and by praying to the Holy Spirit. (The prayer below stands on its own, even though it is day one of a nine-day novena to the Holy Spirit.)
For me at this moment in my life, some of the ways I can most easily discern God’s presence in my life are found in:
- the Word of God
- Eucharistic and other forms of prayer, most especially adoration
- others’ kindness
- others’ challenges
If we can be more attentive to the ordinary ways that God is present in our lives, we will more easily recognize him in the unexpected, in the ways that he surprises us.
This kind of deeper listening will serve our writing because we become better listeners overall. We may want to take a few moments and jot down how we are inspired to write. Whom or what do we listen to that gives our writing direction? Is there a place or activity or way of thinking that helps us to be more receptive? Perhaps we can pay more attention to our sources of inspiration during this Advent, renewing our creativity.
One way of bringing a deeper listening to our writing is to begin each writing session during Advent with a prayer to the Holy Spirit, asking for his light to inspire us.
For another insightful take on Advent from the writing perspective, enjoy these tips from Charlotte Rains Dixon’s blog.