Turning Things Upside Down
Some of us believe spiritual life is a warm, soft blanket we wrap around ourselves to be comfortable.
We like to think spiritual life is full of traditions and stories to make us feel safe.
Spiritual life can seem like getting a flu shot. Every so often we experience a jab of inconvenience but it is good for us and saves us from suffering.
There is an assumption spiritual life is fine for people who enjoy that sort of thing. Some people turn to spiritual life as they get older or lose someone they love. It is something we depend on when we think we need it.
Many of our images of spiritual life are about being nice. We assume spiritual life helps us be gentle, sweeter, milder.
I see spiritual life differently. My favorite image of spiritual life is fire. Fire gives us light and warmth, and also purifies and clarifies. We can sit and reflect while we watch a fire in a fireplace or at the top of a candle.
Fire may give us some comfort but it is also a threat.
Spiritual life is about turning things upside down.
It may be in a single moment or after struggling for many days and nights. There are times when we see clearly by surprise and other times when clarity emerges slowly over time.
One of the underlying truths of spiritual life is things are not as they seem. As we pay attention our insights and questions help us realize we have not seem the entire picture. There is more.
Spiritual life is about showing us things are upside down no matter how clearly we think we see them.
How is spiritual life drawing us to see things are upside down?
A Time For Turning Things Upside Down
I belong to a liturgical church.
One of the things which make us liturgical is we follow an annual pattern of the parts of our story called the liturgical year. Each year has something in common with other years; each year is unique.
Liturgical years have seasons, just like regular calendar years. Each liturgical season focuses on a theme, like “the holidays” or “hockey season.”
This weekend we begin the first season of a new liturgical year which is called Advent. It is a time for turning things upside down.
It is easy for us to lean on our traditions and beliefs. We start to think we understand and forget spiritual life.
We remind ourselves about spiritual life all around us and within us. Spiritual life helps us begin each new year, this year, by turning things upside down. We want to open things up and dump them out and see them in new ways. Advent reminds us every day, every month, every season is a new beginning.
Like the dawn of each new morning, Advent reminds us fire already exists. Advent begins slowly as our days are almost at their darkest. Light has not gone away; we just do not see it yet. Our liturgical year, our entire spiritual journey, is filled with opportunities to remember the fire is still there.
In the middle of a great darkness, we begin to see first light.
Each year, we remind ourselves the fire of spiritual life is still here. We light a new candle each week of Advent. The fire grows in the darkness each week, reminding us spiritual life is always with us.
Spiritual Life Shows Us Things Are Upside Down
We begin our liturgical year with a season of turning things upside down because that is what spiritual life shows us.
Some people get caught up in the details of Advent rules and traditions. They risk missing the underlying importance of turning things upside down.
Advent is my favorite liturgical season. I love its sense of anticipation and new beginnings and I often enjoy turning things upside down. My birthday is during Advent.
It is not turning things upside down as much as recognizing they already are upside down.
As spiritual life lives in and through us we begin to recognize our lives are not as we expected them to be. The goals we set and our expectations for our futures do not necessarily give us the satisfaction we are seeking. Our lives are not about acquiring what we want but about seeing what we need to see.
Spiritual life guides us into truths we might be more comfortable ignoring.
We have learned to see a world which reinforces our expectations and our experiences in ways which support them. Spiritual life shows us the way we see the world is upside down.
Practicing Turning Things Upside Down
We begin our new liturgical year with Advent, the season of turning things upside down.
Advent is not about merely being disruptive, but about seeing life is not as we expected it to be. We open the containers of our lives and dump out what is in them so we can clear away the clutter. This season reflects how each morning, each moment, can be a new beginning.
Spiritual life shows in new ways each day our lives are not what we expected them to be. Some of us find that disturbing or disruptive, but it is actually good news.
Life is filled with more potential, more possibilities, than we have imagined. When we find ourselves stuck in situations or with unwanted responsibilities it is not the end of the story.
Advent reminds us we have hope. There are ways our lives can be turned upside down and be brought into line with spiritual life.
It may not happen overnight or during this year, but we can begin now, in this season.
How do we recognize things are upside down today?
When will we turn things upside down this week?
[Image by Jon the Happy Web Creative]
Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor and coach in Southern California. He is a recovering attorney and university professor, and a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is StrategicMonk.com, and his email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.