An Overdue Reflection on Advent

Denise West, OSB Prayer & Worship, Spirituality Articles 4 Comments

Lent is around the corner but I’m of a mind to look back on the wintry beginning of Advent. The gift – and torment – of the season of Advent is the quiet stillness that beckons us to turn inward, to perceive the darkness residing within. By December every year I’m aware of some niggling bit of unpleasantness that separates me from God, and I know that ‘now is the time’ to reckon with it. I always look forward to the peace and space, the early sunsets that make it easier to use the evening time for reading and reflection. There is less busyness all around and the invitation to stillness is appealing. But I’ve never experienced as much agony during Advent as I did this past year. When Christmas arrived and the readings and songs proclaimed that Christ has come, I was still feeling my way in the dark cave, not having untangled the knot of dissatisfaction.

Two readings touched me during the season. The first one guided my internal meanderings, a dim light that I recognized as a way out of my conundrum. It hung on the refrigerator in our kitchen during the month of December. “Once we admit who we are, fearlessness takes over,” a quote from Joan Chittister. That’s it, I realized. I truly, truly don’t want to admit who I am. There are some aspects of my personality that are so disappointing to me. I don’t want to be a person whose ego revels in attention and flattery or who withdraws from others when I’m feeling lonely. It’s so….unBenedictine. I’m finding that the longer I’ve been here at the monastery, the harder it’s become to admit my faults. It feels like I have more to lose. I want to be a certain person, a good monastic, and in my mind that means shedding certain traits. When I see so clearly that I have not in fact shed these unpleasant characteristics, it feels like failure and it wounds the (false) self-image I persist in holding onto.

The thing is, the desires are not the problem. As in politics, the problem is not the thing itself, but the cover-up.

Which brings me to the second reading, from my book of daily prayer. I will quote it at length.

“Jesus chooses to reveal himself in poverty, but it can be exquisitely difficult for us to show him ours. We are easily bothered by the marks of our humanity, especially those things we loathe about ourselves. Like Adam – who hid from God when he realized he was naked – we try to hide parts of our personality….We want to approach God with our clothes neatly ironed, hair nicely combed, teeth brushed, and shoes shined. But is that what God wants?

On the contrary, God persists in loving what we loathe. Because, if we ask for and are given the grace, the things we hate can be transformed into stones that, each by each, create a royal road that leads to honest self-knowledge and a hard-won humility. This is the only sure way to enter a life with God….Without humility we can only wander in a wilderness of pride and self-satisfaction.”

Rachelle Linner – “The Fastest Way to God’s Heart” in Give Us This Day January 2022

I’m quite familiar with that wilderness, so let me pray for the humility to admit who I am: a flawed person who would sometimes rather pretend to be perfect than have the humility to ask for the grace to be loved as I am.

Comments 4

  1. Thanks, Leora – I really loved your Ash Wednesday homily! (And I’m not just saying that because of your comment.

  2. This really resonated with me. And recently, I saw a quote from Paula D’Arcy: “Eventually I saw that the seeds of a greater journey are waiting in everything and I understood that, when the time is right—when we are finally willing to meet “what is” and stop insisting on our own version of life — real change and transformation become possible.”

    Maybe God is trying to tell me something. 😉

    1. Thank you for reading it, Cathy. That’s a wonderful quote. Yes, willing and able to meet ‘what is’…beautiful.

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