Prepare your heart
Advent begins Sunday, Dec. 2

Advent is that unchangeable season when the same concepts, the same words rise over and over again, year after year, to challenge our hearts and plague our minds. Advent is the season of waiting. And who hasn’t waited? When we are little children, we wait for gifts from our parents. When we are young adults, we wait for the lover who will take us to the magic world of Everything. The problem is that the presents pale and the magic world sags all too quickly into reality. But then Advent comes, relentlessly and throughout life, with its words of hope and faith—shepherds and magi, crib and star, Emmanuel and glory—and stirs our hearts to pinnacles of possibility one more time. Ruben A. Alvez wrote, “Hope is hearing the melody of the future; faith is dancing to it today.” The real Christmas gift, for which Advent is the process, is learning to hum hope, learning to dance the divine.

Advent is a high spiritual season when we prepare to birth the Christ in our lives. In the monastery we pay special attention to the vigil services that take place each Saturday during Advent. “Vigil” means to keep awake, to be watchful. The community gathers in prayer by candlelight to anticipate the Sunday feast, to spiritually prepare for Christmas. I love that the community prays the Advent vigils by candlelight. Praying in the dark means that we have to know all the songs and psalms by heart. If you’re looking for a good Advent practice, you might memorize a favorite Advent scripture passage.

“The power of the Most High will overshadow you,” the monastic liturgy prays during Advent. But who really believes it? We spend our lives, as nations and as individuals, waiting to be saved by the power of our own achievements or the power of destructive force. And yet, it is the clear, soft, consuming, overshadowing power of the Most High in us—the power of goodness that is undeterred by any other power on earth—that lies within our grasp, that can really turn all of life benevolent.

Candles are prominent symbols in the monastery’s Advent services. Candles focus our minds on the light of Christ and remind us always that time is going by, that light is ebbing. Light a candle occasionally during the Advent season and reflect on these questions: What is time for? If time is only for work, then what will be left of me when the work is done? If there is no light in me, what will happen when the darkness comes, as darkness comes to every life? What is the gain of leading a useful life if I do not also lead a meaningful one?

    —from A Monastery Almanac by Joan Chittister (Benetvision)