These Days of Waiting on God
Resources for creating a most meaningful Advent season
There is no better time than Advent to turn our heads and hearts around to the true meaning of our lives. Each year we anticipate the coming of the babe in the manger. And each year, we have the opportunity to start again, to learn anew how to best live into the meaning of Christ with us.
Still, there is probably no time of the year when it is more difficult to focus on God than right now. Some of us are old enough to remember earlier times when the anticipation of Advent was possible, without too much intrusion from the gift-giving celebrations of Christmas. But today, the decorations for Christmas go up in the stores even before Thanksgiving, and we usually lose focus on the waiting and anticipation of Advent—before we even got started!
The Meaning of Advent
The name Advent comes from the Latin word, advenire (to come to), and refers to the coming of Jesus Christ to earth. This is the time of year during which God’s people begin preparing for the celebration of the annual birth of a Savior who comes into our midst.
The Messiah arrives in humble circumstances, foretold by the prophets. As Gabriel said to Mary, “Do not be afraid; you have won God’s favor. Look! You are to conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David; he will rule over the House of Jacob for ever and his reign will have no end.” (Luke 1:30–33)
He lives among us; he is Emmanuel, God with us.
There’s a rich tradition in Christianity of taking time each day for Advent devotions: reading,reflection, personal prayer. At this time of year (and also during Lent), we are reminded to focus our attention on spiritual matters, to look inward, to listen attentively to God, and books are often the best way to do those things. This year, there are three resources that may help you to ponder, explore, and celebrate the meaning of this important time, as you strive to make the birth of Christ real and present in your life.
First, there is Paula Gooder’s new book, The Meaning Is in the Waiting: The Spirit of Advent, just published in paperback at $14.99. Gooder is an Anglican theologian living in England. She’s Canon Theologian of Birmingham Cathedral, and gives frequent retreats in the U.S. She puts you in the company of characters in the Bible whose lives were defined by waiting: Abraham and Sarah, who waited a lifetime for what God promised to them; the Hebrew prophets, who longed for what they knew was possible but could not see; John the Baptist, whose life marked the beginning of one era and the opening of a new one; and Mary, the mother of Jesus, the one who said “yes” to God. The title of Gooder’s book comes from the last line of a beautiful R. S. Thomas poem—and its meditations will inspire you to take a fresh look at the value of anticipation.
Second, I recommend a terrific new book of letters written between two of the most interesting figures in Catholic spirituality from the last century: the Trappist monk Thomas Merton and the social activist and founder of Madonna House, Catherine de Hueck Doherty: Compassionate Fire: The Letters of Thomas Merton & Catherine de Hueck Doherty, published this year in paperback at $12.95. Many of us are familiar with Thomas Merton—and certainly explorefaith has offered many reflections about and by Merton over the years—but Doherty is less known. In fact, she was one of the early influences on Merton, inspiring him to a religious, thoughtful, engaged life with God. Their correspondence began while Doherty was working with the poor in Harlem and Merton was teaching college students in upstate New York. This meaningful little book is small enough to be easily digested during the season of Advent, and doing so will immerse you in the true meaning of spiritual friendship.
Finally, the third resource I hope you’ll discover is a book written by explorefaith editorial board member Frederick Borsch: Day by Day: Loving God More Dearly, published in paperback at $15. While “Day by Day” is that popular song you may remember from Godspell, its origins go back to the Middle Ages. Originally composed by Richard of Chichester, an Anglican saint remembered for his humility, caring for the poor, and generosity of faith, Borsch uses this simple prayer to illuminate what it means to live a Christian life. His meditations are so clear, joyful, and inviting that you won’t even know you are reading a theologian. What could be more profound for the season of Advent, after all, than our learning anew to honestly pray to God “to see you more clearly / love you more dearly / follow you more nearly, day by day”?
Jon M. Sweeney is a frequent contributor to explorefaith. He is the author of many books including Light in the Dark Ages: The Friendship of Francis and Clare of Assisi (Paraclete Press). He blogs at www.jonmsweeney.wordpress.com.
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