Word of the Week

"But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed." Luke 5:16

What does this practice look like in our modern context?

Last summer I spent a week of training for my spiritual director certificate at the Interfaith Institute in Berkeley, CA. Throughout the week, my cohort explored the practice of deeply listening to one another through a variety of different activities. We shared stories. We worked with images. And we even went on solitary walks. Now, eight months later, the memories of this experience are some I still treasure dearly.

And, there's one gem I gained from our Hindu instructor I've thought a lot about this Lent. She said, "If you want to listen to God, then you need to limit media you are taking in." Or in other words she offered: "If you want to be close to the Divine, ask yourself, why are you watching so much tv or listening to so much of the radio or watching movies on Netflix online?" Her words were practical and to the point.

I love media like most of you. Sometimes I think my computer is attached to my body. Sometimes I find myself sad when I don't have a day to catch up on the recorded shows on my DVR box and just veg out. Sometimes the silence of driving in the car with the radio is deafening. My generation loves noise.

But then there are moments when I truly turn it all off and I'm so glad I did.

On Sunday night, Kevin and I were cooking in our Oklahoma apartment's kitchen. The counter space is limited and we were side by side. He was chopping fruit. I was baking bread. We were preparing to host breakfast the next morning for the country directors from Feed The Children in town for the week.

We had both previously commented how excited we were about watching the Oscars. Being movie buffs, we couldn't wait to see who won what and how funny (or not) the jokes were. But then a strange thing happened. We came home from the grocery store and we didn't turn the tv on.

I don't know how, but we forgot about the Oscars.

We unloaded the car, cooked in silence for a while and then began to talk to each other-- sharing details about our weeks that we would have missed if we didn't take this time of pause. I learned more about some of Kevin's deep burdens and he learned more about mine.

I think that listening to God is like this. I think this is what Jesus was modeling for us when he went to the lonely places and prayed.

Sure, we all might have intentions about what we are "doing" this Lent to grow in our faith-- no sweets, no soda, exercising more or even drinking more water, but what good are these things if we don't allow the slower pace of life to help us listen?

Listening to what we are to do next in our daily rhythms . . .

Listening to what our primary relationships need most from us . . .

Listening to what we can only hear if we turn our tvs and computers off . . .

In reading through the gospels, it seems to me that as much as Jesus was "on" and busy, he was always looking for a retreat, quiet and silence. Thank goodness that it is this season, that reminds us every year that the most important thing we can all do is unplug and listen!

With four more days of Advent in the Christmas countdown, it's that time of the year when we all get a little crazy, even the most well-meaning, joyful, and kindhearted among us.

Those of us who hate the mall and all things shopping related find ourselves in overcrowded stores with poorly trained temporary workers checking us out, causing scenes of complete chaos when sales prices are not debited to our bank cards. 

Those of us who wait to do everything last-minute are finding it hard to get the sleep we need to keep going as lists and lists of holiday related chores call our names: parties to attend, presents to wrap, and cookies to bake (even though we've already eaten way too many).

Those of us who must prepare to travel to be with loved ones wonder when the laundry is going to be done as the Christmas activities are all-consuming.

For me, yesterday, I thought I might be assaulted in search of a parking space at the Post Office. Then, it appeared that the woman behind me in line might have a temper tantum when she saw how long the line in front of her was!

Yes, it is a time of peace on earth and goodwill toward all, but such is not often felt if you are the mall, if you are in a house full kids needing stocking stuffers, or if you go 100 feet of a Post Office anytime between now and tomorrow (the last day to ensure your Express Mail packages arrive on time).

For these reasons and many more, I was delighted to have stumbled on this great resource of Advent prayers-- self-reflective prayers for almost any December related situation. The author provides a resource to slow us down and be able to see God even in the fury of pre-Christmas activity.  I just felt calmer when I read this prayer:

My brother, Jesus. It happens every year. I think that this will be the year that I have a reflective Advent.

I look forward to Sunday and this new season, Jesus. But all around me are the signs rushing me to Christmas and some kind of celebration that equates spending with love.

I need your help. I want to slow my world down. This year, more than ever, I need Advent, these weeks of reflection and longing for hope in the darkness.

Jesus, this year, help me to have that longing. Help me to feel it in my heart and be aware of the hunger and thirst in my own soul. Deep down, I know there is something missing in my life, but I can’t quite reach for it. I can’t get what is missing.

I know it is about you, Jesus. You are not missing from my life, but I might be missing the awareness of all of the places you are present there.

Be with me, my dear friend. Guide me in these weeks to what you want to show me this Advent. Help me to be vulnerable enough to ask you to lead me to the place of my own weakness, the very place where I will find you the most deeply embedded in my heart, loving me without limits.

Remember in the craziness of whatever you find yourself in on this December 21st that we are all still waiting. And, sometime BIG is about to come-- if only we wait long enough to see it. And the "something" won't be found under any Christmas tree, no matter how much we shop or bake . . . .