Here are some concrete ways to open ourselves to hearing what God has to say this season
Advent is more than half over.
I know, some of you may be thinking, “Well I haven’t really done anything for Advent, I might as well just give up.”
Don’t give up!
Advent is not about being perfect. God can work wonders in our spiritual lives, even if you just live Advent well for one day.
One of the key things to living a liturgical season well is to slow down for long enough so we can acquire a listening stance. We slow down to listen because God has a special message for us during these rich times in the liturgical season and when we pause and inject silence into our routine, we open ourselves to hearing what God has to say.
Here are some simple strategies I have used to maintain my peace in a time that has been filled with hectic running about, helping with fun (but crazy) nun Christmas concerts, finals, nun cookies (OK, I just admired those), and the usual editing at Pauline Books:
1. Take a walk: It takes 10-15 minutes out of our day to take a short walk. But little breaks that get us out in nature slow us down and help us tune into the rhythm of the natural world. Birds and trees don’t rush from thing to thing.
2. Drink a cup of tea or coffee and do nothing during the time it takes you to finish: Really, that sounds simple but how many of us take just 5 minutes to do nothing? No phone. No TV. No talking. No reading. No working. Just sit. Five minutes, we all have that.
3. Read the Gospel of the day twice and then choose a word or phrase that jumps out at you: This is basically lectio divina, an ancient monastic form of prayer, for people on the go. If you don’t have time for a full-fledged Bible study or for going through all the steps of lectio, just read the Gospel and take a moment to ask God what words he wants you to chew on during the day.
4. Set aside one night per week as a “No Technology Night.” Read a book, talk to a friend, write a letter, but don’t touch your phone or turn on your TV or computer! This sounds so simple but how many of us actually do it? Put a basket by your door and put all gadgets in it on one special night per week. Order a pizza, play a game, make it a special evening by engaging with those you love without screens getting in the way.
5. Inject difference into your schedule: This is a bit vague but I have found that changing my schedule in little ways helps me to shake off any anxious hurriedness I am feeling. If you usually go to lunch at 12 noon, try going five minutes early and spend that time doing something simple, even if it is just walking slowly to lunch. Or write a quick note to someone you love, just to say, “Hello!”
6. Spend time with children: Kids are these magical creatures that have not yet succumbed to the press of time. You never see children anxiously looking at their watches and lamenting, “There just aren’t enough minutes in the day!” Just spending time with kids helps us to jump into the now, the only moment worth living, rather than perpetually living in the future.
7. Look out the window or up at the sky for at least one minute per day: How many times a day do you just take a minute to look out the window and appreciate the dusting of snow or listen to the pitter-patter of rain? Or to just look at the sky and watch the clouds move past? Sometimes when I am walking in a big city, I just stop on the sidewalk and look up (yeah I’m a safety hazard, don’t take me anywhere). As people rush by, I think, “I want to be the kind of person who looks at the sky.” Be the kind of person who looks at the sky this Advent.
8. Bake or cook a fun recipe: Sometimes we prepare food for sustenance and at other times we prepare food in a way that is almost prayerful. Choose one night that you will prepare food for yourself or your family in a way that is creative, simple, and just to enjoy the process of cooking. Here are some ideas.
9. Set an alarm on your phone for morning, afternoon, and evening. When it rings stop for one minute and sit in silence or say a simple prayer: We have all kinds of gadgets that distract us but they can also help us pray. There are tons of great Catholic apps for praying the Rosary, the Liturgy of the Hours, etc. But sometimes that doesn’t work because we have to actually open the app. This is why something as easy as an alarm can be an effective reminder to pray. Simple as that.
10. Think about the things that are stressing you out and give thanks: If your kids are driving you crazy, take a moment to say, “Thank you Lord for my beautiful children.” If it is work, stop and say, “Thank you God that I have a job and that it provides for my needs. If it’s school, “Thank you for my ability to learn and for all the ways I am growing through my study.” If someone is ill, stop and say, “Thank you God for this person I love.” If we stop to realize that our daily stresses are really disguised blessings, even when they are painful, it helps us to hold onto peace.
What are some things that have helped you to slow down this Advent and hear God’s voice?