Reflection: What are you preparing for?
As the daylight is getting shorter, our advent journey is going deeper. Each Sunday during the Advent we have a different theme that helps guide us in this time of waiting. So far we have explored darkness – how it is essential for anything to grow – and desires, our deepest longings – how they help connect us to what really matters to us. And today’s theme is preparing a space. I’ve been always fascinated by the notion of space. From the vast and limitless space of the universe that I can’t comprehend to my own bedroom that I occupy and spend most of my time, space is mystical and yet it is communicating to us all the time. What is so powerful about space is that it invites us to be in relationship with everything and everyone sharing the same space, and that it’s really up to us what to create in that space. It is not surprising to get different feelings from the places we visited, because of what’s been created within those spaces. Space holds memories and experiences. The theme, preparing a space is very fitting for the season of Advent because that is about who we want to be.
As I read the following excerpt from Night Visions written by Jan. Richardson, I invite you to think how God is preparing you in this season of Advent.
This season beckons me to ask, what am I preparing for? What is the way that is being prepared within the wilderness of my life? What does it mean for my own life to become a path, a way of welcome for the Holy One? How do I give myself time to notice the ways that the path unfolds before me and within me? What are the acts of preparation that bring delight to my daily life? Whom do I ask or allow to help me prepare?
Chances are, if we don’t enjoy the process of getting ready, we won’t enjoy the event we are getting ready for. If we become so consumed by getting Christmas right – the right present, the right cards mailed to the right people at the right time, the right dishes for Christmas dinner – we risk missing the surprising ways that God prepares us in this season. As we open to God’s guiding in these Advent days, we may discover that the space being prepared for the coming birth lies within our own selves.
¹Jan L. Richardson, Night Visions – searching the shadows of advent and Christmas (Cleveland: United Church Press, 1998) p.39
I once was in a retreat where I was invited to create anything important in my life and ministry. I always liked to play with the earth. I grabbed clay from the table, and began to create the shape of a heart. I tried to mold the heart of God so I could feel it. I made it as big as possible. It was smooth, round and full. But it didn’t look like the heart of God. It didn’t feel authentic. I was wondering how we could take a rest in the heart of God if there was no room in it. I began to reshape it so there was enough room for everyone. The empty heart made more sense, and I was very happy with the result. I made some figures as well – the people I loved and cared for – and put them in the empty space. The whole process was a prayer as I was finding a way to connect to the people through the emptiness of God. I believe in the self-emptying God who nurtures us and the rest of the whole creation by constantly making room. It is here in the emptiness that I see the most generous and powerful act of love, because this self-emptying God knows how to be in relationship, and how to invite us to be in relationship. Whereas the almighty God, who knows everything, and who can do anything with perhaps the strong, round and full heart seems to be distant, no so engaging or lonely.
The following is from Jan Richardson’s meditation on vessels:
I measure my life in vessels. They trace the contours of my days. Teacup, bowl, oil lamp, pitcher, baptismal font, communion chalice, basin, bathtub. I sleep in the belly of night and wake under a downturned bowl of blue I ponder their shapes as I begin to understand my own longing: wanting to be held, fighting against being contained. Teach me, I say. Tea, oil, water, wine, stars, sky. Teach me how to gracefully, powerfully fill my space.
You hollow us out, God, so that we may carry you, and you endlessly fill us only to be emptied again. Make smooth our inward spaces and sturdy, that we may hold you with less resistance and bear you with deeper grace.
Reflection: Holding Space
When was the last time you experienced the power of the presence of someone? There is no power greater than this: when we are so present that our presence becomes the greatest gift to those who need it. Just by being there in the right moment, we can make a positive impact on those around us and our communities. The power of technology can help connect us to the people on the other side of the world as if we are in the same place, but it can also distract us from connecting with the people who are already in the same space. We can stay connected by remembering the power of the presence we each can bring. Holding space for each other is what the world needs right now. It is free but not cheap. It can actually drain our energies. That is true especially if we don’t have anyone who is willing to hold space for us. So holding space requires us to be in relationship whether we are at the receiving end or at the giving end.
The Nativity story reminds us how they get through the times of danger by holding space for each other. One of the things they all share – Mary, Joseph, the shepherd and the magi – is how they each allow each other to be in the place of uncertainty. None of them pretend that they have all the answers, nor do they have fixed agendas. That’s because, they simply know how to trust and pay attention to the one who initiated their journey long before they even realized.
Holding space is not easy. It requires a good sense of keeping the boundary, active listening, and mutual respect. Often, with every good intention, we try to help someone only to realize that we actually disempower them by occupying their space. Holding space, on the other hand, leaves the person feeling supported and empowered. It is rare because a real conversation is rare. How hard it is to listen to someone else not thinking what we will say next! So we first need to be comfortable with being in our own skin embracing all that we are as we are. For we can truly love others when we know how to love ourselves.
This Advent let’s hold space first for ourselves without fixing, judging, or controlling our feelings. And then let us hold space for the people we love or care for with a simple trust that while holding space, we are also held by the one who makes space for all of us.
Prayer: The Word Was Made Flesh by Joyce Rupp, Out of the Ordinary
Response: The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. (John 1:14)
I paused on a winter cold night and felt the beauty of soft snowflakes upon my cheeks. I marveled at a presence more than mine in that moment of wonder ….
I visited a dying woman in the hospital I sensed her courage and her strength in the midst of great frailty …
I looked into the eyes of the clerk in the department store. They were the eyes of one who was tired and discouraged ….
I walked past a homeless man on the street. He held out an ungloved hand and asked me for coffee money to warm him in the cold …
I opened the newspaper and saw a photo of relatives mourning during the funeral for a four-year-old Palestinian boy, who died after being injured by Israeli gunfire at the protest near the fence with Israel….
I went to a Christmas party and saw friends of long ago. We laughed and reminisced and enjoyed the moments we had known in years gone by …
I spent the early morning hour in prayer, asking God to tell me the meaning of incarnation in my life …
I read a letter from a single parent who still has no work. She grieves over the little she can give her children and worries about their health …
I opened up the package that came in the mail. When I saw the little sprigs of fresh holly, hope sprang up in my heart …
I went to church today and sang the songs of Advent yearning. I turned my heart to God who is always in need of a better dwelling place and I begged for my transformation …
O Word made flesh, you came to dwell among us long ago. No matter how dull and lifeless, or how happy and fulfilling our lives may be, there is always need for a deeper awareness of your hopeful presence. There are signs of your coming, signs of your continued presence, everywhere in our lives. Freshen up our vision so that we can recognize your dwelling within us and among us as we move hurriedly in this busy season of the year. May our lives be filled with love for all those who come our way. Amen.