The days leading up to Advent were packed to overflowing. Between the Thanksgiving holiday and my four-day trip with Noah to the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indiana (not to mention visits from family and friends and our first 5K race) things just felt totally out of hand. There was none of the quiet slowness that should herald the onset of this beautiful season.
Then this morning, as I felt the panic heighten due to a mounting number of work deadlines, I just stopped in my tracks. I closed the laptop, dumped the newspapers into recycling, cleared the table, made my oatmeal, and lit a candle. I sang "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" all by myself at my kitchen table as the steam from my breakfast cereal rose to the sky like incense. And suddenly Advent had begun.
I'd like to think that those few minutes of total silence and stillness are going to be more the norm than the rarity this Advent season, but I'm not that naive. December usually moves at full tilt, with shopping and planning and concerts and parties. I have no illusions of what's to come, especially since I am currently working on two books on tight deadlines. And yet, still, I feel a settling now where a few days ago I felt only unrest.
I think we often forget that the peace and calm that prayer brings to our lives doesn't come without some effort on our part. We can't move through life at breakneck speed, sending a shout out to God along the way, and expect to become centered and balanced and serene. That only comes from the occasional silence we actively create in our lives.
As I told a group of teens earlier this month during a talk on prayer, if we give God just five minutes of silence a day (which will feel like five hours the first few times you do it), we will begin to see subtle and not-so-subtle shifts in our lives in short order. Five minutes a day of total silence. That means turning off everything -- phones, computer speakers, Twitter feeds and Facebook accounts, TVs and stereos. Tune out every sound you possibly can. And then just sit and wait for God.
I experienced that kind of silent waiting, believe it or not, in a stadium of 23,000 teenagers a couple of weeks ago. One of the MCs at NCYC had the audacity to lead that giant, noisy group of excitable kids in lectio divina. When she started out, I thought she was nuts. By the time we were sitting in absolute silence, I was in awe. Imagine that many teenagers just sitting in silence, longing for a connection with God. If that don't get you some religion, I don't know what will. (I plan to write more about the NCYC experience in days to come. Sorry for the delay.)
Yesterday day, during Morning Prayer, this verse from the Book of Tobit jumped out at me:
"When you turn back to him with all your heart,
to do what is right before him,
then he will turn back to you,
and no longer hide his face from you."
So this Advent I plan to try to turn back to God with all my heart, not an easy task by any means. I know how quickly and easily I get thrown off course, but try I will. I'll have the added benefit of some intense spiritual time this weekend, when I head to Kripalu yoga center for a workshop with Paulist Father Tom Ryan, a certified yoga teacher, called "Pray All Ways."
In addition to the workshop, Father Tom will celebrate Mass late Saturday evening for those who want a Sunday Eucharistic celebration. He told me we would sit in a circle, chant, and have an interactive homily. I am beyond excited to experience all that is in store for me. (And my friend Michelle D., who bravely decided to join me for the workshop and share a room with me. Thank you, Michelle!)
I'll be back with tales from the journey. In the meantime, slow down, breathe, be silent, if only for five short minutes.