I fear I got a bit carried away last Friday. I was so happy to be blogging again that I lost track of the original intention—which was, a post on Advent preparation—and veered madly down the path of family updates. Forgive me.
Part I was an appetizer—my begin-again at blogging after a 3-month hiatus.
Part II, please God, is the meat and potatoes—or (if you’re following a low-carb diet) the meat and cauliflower, which is also good.
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Advent 2018. How is this year going to be any different? I began my preparations last Sunday by reading three online reflections. First, I read Haley Stewart’s When Your Weary Heart Needs Advent, which hit me over the head like a torrent of holy water. “I will remember the vast ocean of God’s love and mercy. I will be filled with wonder all over again. I will have respite from the weariness of this world.”
Yes, please. All of that would be just great.
I loved, too, Melissa Wiley’s cozy reflections on the changing season (she lives on the West Coast but I could still relate) because, after all, that’s what Advent is—a season that’s meant to change our heart and the conflicting seasons therewithin.
And finally I read Professor Carol’s Advent Season Begins, which struck me with this stand-out passage in particular:
The simplicity of Advent’s traditions, its clear design built around four Sundays, and its focus on devotion and spiritual preparation allow us a clean break from the commercial madness of Christmas and the crippling sense that we ought to be “doing more” if we want our families to experience Christmas fully.
Three lovely women. Three very different takes on Advent.
Here’s mine but be warned: it’s a work in progress.
I myself am a work in progress…and that’s the whole point of Advent.
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Once again I pose the question: How is this Advent meant to be any different from Advents past, from last week, from yesterday? I will tell you what I think: Advent is meant to make us better, but not–I repeat, but NOT in a self-helpy Barnes & Noble bookshelf way. If you were paying attention during the the Mass readings at the end of November, which coincided with the the close of the liturgical year, you may have felt a bit unnerved. They were all about being Advent-ready–as in, ready for the redemption that Christmas brings.
And yet, did you notice?
There wasn’t a single reference to Christmas shopping.
Instead, we’re meant to prepare our hearts for the birth of our Savior. I know, I know…how do we even do that? I will tell you: we have to work hard.
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Advent has become, for me, a much-loved season of trust and hope—trust in what God is doing in me and hope that I will get everything on my list accomplished.
Seriously, I give it all to Him.
Meanwhile, I wanted an action plan to use these three weeks (it’s one of the shortest Advents ever) to be like the Scriptural virgin with a lamp full of oil. I knew that I needed something tangible to keep me accountable and I knew that I needed a handful of goals that really mattered.
So, my friend, I made a streak sheet.
Some of the habits were already established. For example, saying the rosary daily was my push goal at the start of 2016 (I wrote about it here) and that has made a world of difference.
The other goals–for really, goal-setting and habit formation is what this streak sheet’s about–are harder and take more effort and focus. “Going Deep” is a phrase that I borrowed from Cal Newport’s book Deep Work ; going deep means no Facebook, no Instagram, no email even…at least, from the hours of 8:00 to 3:00.
The month of December is hard enough as it is. The days grow dark and I grow depressed…
Social media gets in the way.
This Advent habit will be the hardest, for sure, but I can tell you–having practiced it for three days and then having taken a break for the feast of St. Nicholas yesterday–it’s HUGE in terms of healing my heart. I’m just gonna type fast and get it all out: we weren’t made for so much noise. We were made for communion with the Triune God and there’s a spiritual reality going vastly neglected! Advent’s a great time for a reset.
And then, because nature abhors a vacuum, I’ve filled that space with reading good books.
Good books? Great books! I’m crazy attached to these books!
I discovered Wendell Barry when Well Read Mom had us read Hannah Coulter, but Jayber Crow (which was a Mama’s Book Club selection at the Read Aloud Revival) was the book that hit me HARD in the heart. It’s a fairly long book–363 pages–so I had to be extremely intentional. I read it on both of my device’s Kindles and I listened on Audible in the car. I read; I listened; I listened; I read…so that in the end and by my husband’s estimation, I read three times at once.
Pick up a book by Wendell Barry. Your spiritual landscape won’t be the same.
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The other book I’m reading is Reed of God by Caryll Houselander, which is the December selection for Well Read Mom and which, odds are good, many of you are reading as well.
It deserves its own blog post but I can say this: It is the PERFECT accompaniment to one’s Advent reading. Consider this thought from the first chapter on Emptiness: “Strangely enough, those who complain the loudest of the emptiness of their lives are usually people whose lives are overcrowded.”
What’s overcrowding your heart this Advent? Is it too much sugar or too much wine? Too much envy, self-pity or a critical spirit? Ready…set…begin again. What works for me might not work for you but our redemption is headed this way. Light a candle. Be ready.
Clean your house for Him.