The holiday season is upon us once again! That means we’ll soon be buying gifts, decorating the tree, and maybe attending a Christmas party or two. But as great as those things are, we don’t want them to distract us from the Christ-centered nature of the season. That’s why it’s so important to make time in our schedules to prayerfully observe Advent.
I recently interviewed two authors whose books of daily reflections, prayers, and meditations are specifically designed to help you do just that. Mary DeTurris Poust, communications director for the diocese of Albany, penned “Waiting in Joyful Hope,” while Sister Kathryn Hermes, along with several of her fellow Pauline sisters, authored “Advent Christmas Grace.”
For DeTurris Poust, Advent doesn’t come easy. It requires slowing down, she says, “and I’m not a very patient person. I talk fast, I walk fast, I like everything to happen now. Learning [to slow down] has been important for me, and I’m still working on it.”
The proximity of Thanksgiving to the start of Advent is appropriate because gratitude should play a role in the season. DeTurris Poust says, “We hear in pop psychology and on talk shows about the importance of gratitude journals, yet there is that kernel of deep truth there. We [should] start looking at not just the big things in our lives that we’re thankful for…Advent calls us to be much more aware of the smaller things. For me, if I’m leaving early [for work] and somebody left their Christmas lights on the night before and they’re still on at 6 o’clock in the morning, there’s something almost mystical and magical about that whole thing. Those little moments call you back to being grateful for the smaller blessings and larger ones.”
Sister Kathryn adds, “Thanksgiving is a beautiful time when families come together. Advent is this beautiful time when the entire Christian family, in a sense, comes together. We read salvation history. We discover the larger family we’re a part of.”
Both authors note the importance of Lectio Divina (Divine Reading) on the way they put together their books. It’s not a passive experience, but rather a deliberate effort to enter the Scriptures and see how God is trying to communicate with us today. That can be especially important for people enduring pain and struggles during the holiday season.
Sister Kathryn advises, “I often suggest walking into the stable with your pain, kind of like the little drummer boy…Walk into the Scriptures with your pain, and imagine picking up the Christ child or sitting next to Mary or Joseph and allowing the presence of Jesus to touch you. The words that are in these books are powerful, and they can give us new thoughts and new direction. The Holy Spirit can speak through them and open up a new door into our hearts, especially for people who are carrying the pain of loss, depression or failure. You’ve got to bring your own reality into these books and allow Jesus to meet you where you are.”
DeTurris Poust knows that we can miss the relevance of the Christmas story to our modern lives because we’ve heard it so many times. Entering the story ourselves can make a difference in how we respond.
She says, “We ought to think about Mary hearing this message [from the angel Gabriel]. She was greatly troubled. She had to contemplate that. Then moving forward with Joseph, everything that transpired were difficult human things they had to face. We can forget, when we’re caught in our own trouble, that Mary and Joseph faced real challenges, not knowing everything that was coming. [But] they trusted, and we can do the same. We can look to them and find peace and trust in that place with them.”
Ultimately, Advent is meant to bring us closer to Jesus. Sister Kathryn says, “More than making a friend of Jesus is realizing that He has befriended us. Just the awe and the humbling reality that God – the divinity, my Creator – wanted to me my friend!..If Pope Francis came and said, ‘Sister Kathryn, I want to be your friend,’ I’d be like, ‘Wow, that is really cool!’”
DeTurris Poust concludes, “I think children and adults need to be reminded that [friendship] exists. It’s not something we have to earn [or] seek in a special way. We just have to turn ourselves toward Jesus and put ourselves in God’s presence. Again, it comes back to that daily time spent in prayer.”
(To listen to my full interview with Mary DeTurris Poust and Sister Kathryn Hermes, click on the podcast link):