My sister and I used to lie to our parents about whether we had gone to church, if we thought we could get away with it. We lived close enough to walk to church, and with so many people and schedules in the house, it was occasionally conceivable that I could have gone to mass on a Saturday night without anyone being around to prove or disprove it.
Once my sister busted me by asking what the special thing was they did before mass started. It was the first Sunday of Advent), and they must have started off lighting the candle on the Advent wreath. I blanked on the answe and scurried off to the Sunday mass rather than double down and get caught.
I hated going to church growing up. The only thing I liked was the singing, and to this day the thing I like about Advent is that we sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” At St. Stan’s sometimes it’s only the first week of Advent, which totally stinks, especially if you miss it. Anyway, I hated having to be quiet, hated sitting next to my parents but not always getting to be cuddled or held, hated being still, hated not being able to read. It’s probably where I learned to daydream, but even still it was deadly. I wanted to scream just to see what would happen, but I knew better than to do it.
Church was less awful in college, even interesting and pleasant sometimes. When I moved to the Twin Cities after college, I tried a few churches but didn’t feel at home until a co-worker suggested St. Stan’s. I loved that the ritual and music all felt familiar, and that the message was both loving and challenging – I was called to connect with God in me and to live a more love-filled, less judging life.
Until recently, the ritual of Advent didn’t resonate. It felt like an afterthought to the anticipation of Christmas, and I didn’t know what kind of preparation I needed for that. A couple of years ago it started to make more sense to me. I had recently lost my job and given myself until the New Year to decompress and explore options. I was unfocused for the first month, but in the second month – Advent – I had to prepare for what was next. The work of discernment and listening and getting clear with myself was urgent and couldn’t be ignored. The clarity I got – to start my own business, work for myself, find my own way – was there when I got quiet enough to find it. Two years into self-employment, our bills our paid and our retirement is still on track. I feel great about that decision and the work I did to feel confident about the leap.
This December – this Advent – feels like a similar period of discernment and listening. Things will be dark, and then they will be light. I may have to let go of some things at the end of this season, in order to step into the next right thing. I’m looking forward to doing the work.
(Also, I don’t lie about skipping church anymore. Also, sorry mom.)
The Love That Is God
We can pray about this. So just sit back, relax, and close your eyes, keep your back straight, breath slowly and deeply, slowly and deeply. Let he cares, the worries, the fears, the hates, the anger, the vengeance and the cruelty, the bitterness, loneliness, despair and depression fall away.
We are surrounded by love, the love we name God. That love holds us, embraces us, cradles us, looks at us tenderly and with compassion. That love lives deep within our souls and bubbles up with powerful, healing energy.
Gracious love, help us to rest in the love that you are. Help us to trust you. We need that trust because the journey is long and difficult and scary and painful. It Is so hard for us to let go of where we are. As we move we are like a trapeze person flying between the swings. That is really scary, and so we don’t want to leave our own swing. We’re too scared. If we can trust that you are the net beneath us, that you will hold us and cherish us and love us no matter what happens, we don’t have to be quite so afraid.
Loving God, help us to trust you and to let go of all of those ideas that you are punishing and blaming and angry and wrathful. Help us to believe and trust that all you do is love us – no matter what. Help us to let go of all of those comfortable places where we are, so we can see new sights, new visions.
Open our minds, which are so narrow. We don’t want new thoughts because they scare us Open our minds, loving God. And open our hearts which are so often confined just to ourselves or to those around us and those who are close to us. Open our hearts wider and wider.
Loving God, we surrender ourselves to you – all that we have and all that we are – trusting that one day you will draw all of us into that infinite love that is you.
From “The Love That Is God,” in Surrounded By Love by Father John Clay ©2005