Jesus

I Really Want to Love Advent

*Disclaimer: Writing about how sometimes I don’t love Advent does not mean that I don’t love Christmas. Just as writing about my longings for changing the church does not mean that I don’t love Jesus. Just as writing about how my marriage could improve does not mean that I don’t love my husband. Just as writing about my hopes and dreams for my children does not mean that I don’t love them. You get the idea.

I want to love Advent. Really I do. It is not something we practiced growing up. In fact, I had never heard of Advent until I was a young mother, and heard a talk about it at a MOMS group as a meaningful alternative to the commercialization and Santa-frenzy of the Christmas season. It sounded good. Taking time out of the chaos of the holiday season to focus your heart each week to prepare for the spiritual reason for the season – the coming of Christ.

Oh Lord, let my soul rise up to meet you as the day rises to meet the sun.

What is Advent?

It is part of the liturgical church calendar, beginning the fourth Sunday before Christmas (this usually falls the Sunday after Thanksgiving). The season focuses on the expectation and the anticipation of the coming of Jesus. Often there are four candles placed around an Advent wreath, with one candle being lit each week on Sunday, representing hope, love, joy, and peace. There is sometimes a candle placed in the center to represent Christ, and that is lit on Christmas Day. As each candle is lit, there are readings, hymns or songs, and scriptures for each week, often meant to be read together as a family.There are variations of the practice of advent, but those are the basics.

It sounds lovely, and it can be. There are times that I really appreciated being reminded to push pause and reflect. I particularly loved getting up early Christmas morning and lighting the center candle and just spending some quiet time praying and reflecting before everyone else got up and the busy day began.

But honestly, it often felt like one more thing to do during the Christmas season. And three little boys weren’t particularly keen to sit quietly and participate in readings (unless it was their turn to light the candle). Most of the time I was unprepared when that first Sunday of Advent rolled around, because not only did it mean putting away my fall decorations, it meant finding and putting out my Christmas decorations, or at least my Advent wreath. To add to this pressure, two of my boys have birthdays the first week of December, so we often put off decorating for Christmas until after we celebrated their birthdays. And when I finally got my act together and had everything set up, it often felt like a forced ritual, rather than a meaningful time of reflection. And if I’m truly honest, it was sometimes a source of pride and self-righteousness that I was practicing Advent and down-playing Santa. Yes, that is the ugly truth of it.

O come, O come, Emmanuel : and ransom captive Israel

So as I’ve started my search for the sacred, I am trying to look at Advent with new eyes. And evenso, I was not ready for the first Sunday of Advent. We moved across the country this summer, and I had to find my Christmas boxes among the piles of boxes up on the third floor. (And also, the mid-season finale of The Walking Dead was on). Ummmm. Yeah, so there it is.

But by the first of the week I had found my advent wreath and bought my candles and started reading each day. In my journey to discover the meaningfulness behind the church calendar, I have been reading Common Prayer: a Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, and I am trying to rid my life of some of the distractions so that I can learn to focus on what is important.

Praise to you who lift up the poor : and fill the hungry with good things.

Which is truly difficult for me – I am strongly ADD and my life is centered around distractions. I thrive on them. So this learning to be still and focus and remove distractions and have discipline is scary, uncomfortable, and very, very difficult at times. It does not come easily for me, but I am slowly learning.

There are many readings that go along with Advent – some are quite formal, others a little more laid back. If you have never practiced Advent, or like me, sometimes just went through the motions, I encourage you to look at Advent with fresh eyes and an open heart. There is something truly sacred about pausing and reflecting, not as a duty, but out of a sense of wonder. This year, along with the readings from Common Prayer, I am following Sarah Bessey’s writings for Advent. I love her writing  because she speaks hard truths with a sweetness and gentleness that draws me in. So if you’re a late starter, like me, you can begin here:

Week One:  Hope

Week Two: Peace

You speak in my heart and say, “Seek my face” : your face, Lord, will I seek.

Lord, help me to learn to turn from the many distractions that, although they may be good, serve to distract me from the best. 

Lord, help me learn to be still and quiet, so that I can hear your voice. 

Lord, give me open eyes to see truth, and a mouth that can speak truth in love as well as hold its tongue for the sake of grace and peace.

Advertisements

Why Church Breaks My Heart

October 5, 2014 by Kristin Meador
 
Day 5: For the month of October, I’ve joined over 1600 other writers in a 31 Day writing challenge. You can read more about it and see the participating blogs at write31days.com  Here is the starting page for 31 Days of My Search for Balance: Body, Mind, and Soul. From there you can find all of my October posts. 
 

Craig and I visited a church this morning, and we just couldn’t stay.

It breaks my heart, because I really want to find a church. Not a ‘church’ but a community of believers.

I am pondering what the ‘church’ is and how it has come to be the way it is. I am so uncomfortable with the programming aspect and business model of today’s American church, with the pedestal of one man leading the masses (we have seen recently how dangerous that can be and how many people can be damaged), and the ‘put on a show’ mentality. I can’t hear another 3 Steps to Improve Your Relationship With God (week after week after week). I am not saying that if this is what your church home is like that it’s wrong, I don’t know what is wrong in this picture, I just know that it’s not right for me.

It’s not that I don’t need words from wise teachers about how to grow as a follower of Christ. It just feels so formulated. It does not reach my heart. I know that church isn’t all about me and what I can gain from it. But I also believe that it should be a place that furthers your relationship with God? I love worship music and singing and even hymns, but why does every week have to be a concert? It so often feels like a showcase for musical talent rather than a group of people lifting their voices to worship God together. I would much rather go to Beer and Hymns at the pub. (I know many people who are feeling this way right now, and I hope we can find an answer. But I’d like to speak to those of you who are Christians and are reading this and cannot understand how I could feel this way. If you feel led to tell me about your wonderful church and how it’s different, or how I need to change my attitude because it’s not all about me, I ask you to have grace. Maybe before you give me advice or quote a scripture at me, please try to just listen to what I have to say, and maybe sit with it for a while.)

In my search for balance, one of the areas that troubles me the most is my longing for a spiritual community. The longing doesn’t trouble me, but the inability to find one is heartbreaking.

This has always been a challenge for my husband and me. But whenever we have moved to a new area, we have always seemed to find a place to land where we can grow and serve and learn and raise our kids. In last few years, that has all changed. I don’t know if it’s our station in life or just where our spiritual journey has taken us, but nothing seems to be a good fit. It took my husband a little longer to get to that realization than I did, because he is a very disciplined and routine type of man. But that is his story.

So I sat in this sweet little church, with lovely people, with talented musicians leading worship, and

I WANTED to want to be there. I wanted to find a safe place, a safe community. I tried to sit with my unsettled heart. Give it time. Don’t judge.

But I couldn’t stay. My eyes filled with tears, and my heart ached. I want a home, a safe place, a church family. And this was not it.  So we left and I sat in the car and cried all the way home.  The tears are streaming down my face as I write this. (The service started at 10, we left at 10:30, and I am just finishing this post at 11:30).

SO – what now? We’ve been asking ourselves this question for months, years. Here is the picture that makes my heart sing:

Maybe church looks like having a meal together around a large table, and breaking bread together. Maybe church looks like welcoming everyone to the table.

When I say everyone, I mean everyone (young, old, rich, poor, black, white, purple, straight, gay, transgender, religious or not religious). In my heart I see these people gathering together, sharing life, and talking about what God is doing in our lives. That might mean looking at the Bible, listening to a wise teacher, hearing from the couple whose marraige was broken but has been restored, or having the ten-year old who just learned how to not be a bully share her story.

It would look like a small community who meets regularly (whatever that means) looking at our community, our neighborhoods, our circles of influence, and helping where help is needed. Skin in the game, real helping. Not just talking, but doing. Feet on the ground, and hand dirty.

It would might looking beyond ourselves and being Jesus in our community.

Maybe it looks like buying groceries for the single mom, or taking her kids for the night so she can have a break. Or supporting families with foster kids. Or working at the soup kitchen, or homeless shelter, or volunteering with hospice to sit with dying patients. Or mowing your neighbors lawn. Or having a neighborhood breakfast in a low income neighborhood who may not get a hot breakfast unless it’s supplied by their school.

It might look like having Beer and Bible study with college kids. It might look like turning my home into a boarding house with a large community room and creating a safe place for people to land.

I really don’t know what it would look like. I’m just dreaming. I wish I knew what it should look like, and more than that, I wish I knew where to find it in my little community of Vancouver, Washington.

Until then, maybe I will head to Portland and try Beer and Hymns.

Disclaimer:  I have gone to church all my life, every Sunday (morning and evening) and midweek and weekend activities. I have been a Sunday school teacher, a youth group leader, a small group leader, and was a leader in women’s ministries for years. My husband was raised in the church. My kids were raised in the church. There is a lot I loved about those years, and they helped shape who I am today (good and bad). But my heart longs for something more, something different. I don’t even know what that means, and I don’t want to say that those still participating in church as it is are wrong. It’s just not the right fit for me. I have hesitated to write about this are because it makes me feel especially vulnerable, but I think today is the day.