Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Advent Alphabet 2013 - Day 18

R is the eighteenth letter of the Advent alphabet. Words that begin with R are reflection, resting, retreat and reconciliation.

Reflection involves thinking and consideration. Ever walk into a grocery store and try to decide between two brands of the same product? That could be considered a reflection, in a very broad sense because a choice had to be made based on what was important: price, sugar content, nutritional value, etc. Reflection is also a spiritual practice that also involves thinking and consideration. Theological reflections can happen with even the most simple and sometimes the most un-spiritual things that can be imagined. Take, for instance, an advertisement in a magazine for a particular brand of cell phone. The ad read, “All you’ll ever need.” Really? Is a cell phone all anyone would need? Is that what our culture is telling us? What is your personal position on this? Does it ring true for you? What does our religious tradition (hymns, scripture, lives of the saints, etc.) say about all you’ll ever need? Does this train of thought make you more aware of something in your own life, induces you to some action, perhaps making some change in how you see things? Congratulations. You’ve just done a mini-theological reflection. And it probably didn’t hurt a bit. Advent is a great time to learn new spiritual practices – and practice them.

Resting is the fourth step of a Lectio Divina reflection. The Latin term for it is contemplatio, contemplation. As you sit quietly following reading (lectio), meditating (meditatio), and praying (oratio), try to feel God’s presence sitting with you. Listen for what God wants to say to you, or simply sit with God in companionable silence. During this period of contemplatio, as with theological reflection, a new direction in life, a new way of thinking or a new understanding may occur that motivate you to action. That might be God’s way of encouraging you to try something new—like trying another theological reflection or lectio divina. Or maybe it could be something life-changing and unexpected, a revealing of a passion that hadn’t been noticed and one that can meet a need in a world with a lot of needs.

Some churches have retreats at various times of the year, Advent being one of them. Retreats are times where a person turns off the cell phone and the tablet, finds a quiet place and spends time in prayer, meditation and reflection, either alone or in a group. Retreats can last a month or just a few hours. They can be lead by a priest, a religious, or a lay person. There are even online retreats for those who can’t get away but who are interested in this type of spiritual practice. Getting away from everyday life, though, is often a life- and sanity-saving experience, offering a chance to be quiet with no outside demands, learning new spiritual practices, and most of all, a chance to experience external silence which can lead to a better understanding of how to quiet internal noise that can get in the way of prayer, meditation or other spiritual practices. Most importantly, retreats can reconnect a person with God in a deeper, richer way. During Advent, that can be a true gift to oneself.

Reconciliation is a state of putting people back together after some sort of rift in the relationship. One of the greatest examples of reconciliation took place in South Africa where the Truth and Reconciliation Commission brought together victims of apartheid and all its accompanying evils with the perpetrators who had injured them in some way. The purpose wasn’t exclusively to get the tormentors/killers to confess or to apologize for their wrongdoing so much as to give the victims an opportunity to face their nightmares, speak their truth and be heard. Often apologies did come, but for the speakers, reconciliation and healing was begun simply by speaking words they could not speak before, and to the people who caused their suffering. Each of us has no doubt had to face someone, either someone we’ve wronged or someone who has wronged us, and spoken our truth, not necessarily to make amends or to be forgiven but because we needed to face the situation and move off dead center. We reconcile to God the same way, by speaking of what we’ve done for which we need forgiveness. It isn’t for God we confess those wrongs, it is for ourselves. Advent is a good time to practice confession, make amends and practice reconciliation.

 There is a pattern to Advent: be awake, be aware, prepare through stillness, prayer, meditation and look with expectation. The trick is to do them.

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