By Christine Valters Paintner
Every year for the first Sunday of Advent we read a version of Jesus' description of the end of days. In the Gospel reading from St. Luke this week, Jesus' language is filled with apocalyptic images of fear and trembling and signs "in the sun, the moon, and the stars." The word apocalypse essentially means revelation and is from the Greek for "uncovering what has been hidden." In other words, apocalypse is about the revelation of a new truth in our lives. And Jesus' reminder to "beware that your hearts do not become drowsy" is well heeded in a time when we are numbed by commercialism gone terribly awry.
This first week of Advent, as we enter a season of waiting and anticipation, we are being called to a state of alertness and watchfulness. Not the kind of caffeinated-hyperactivity we might experience trying to get through an endless stream of shopping and festive gatherings, but the kind of alertness that comes when we have rested well and are present to the movements of the Holy One among us. What I hear in these words is a caution against the temptation to succumb to the busyness of life, to pile on commitments so that I never have time to really rest well and so am always too weary to be truly alert.
Awakening is a powerful metaphor for the spiritual journey. In Eastern religion the dominant metaphor is of a humanity that has fallen asleep to our true nature and forgotten who we are, so practices emphasize learning how to re-awaken to our truest and most authentic selves. Dawn is a potent hour of the day experienced as a threshold time. Christianity, Islam, and Judaism all prescribe morning prayers to greet the newness of God's creation again with fresh eyes.
In Jesus' invitation to us, he is calling us to this practice of becoming fully present to the moment and not falling asleep by dwelling in the past or worrying our way into the future. This moment right now contains all the signs we need. The excerpt from Marilyn Buck's poem above reminds us that everything is already revealed; we simply need eyes to see. Jesus said the Reign of God is already here, we just need to know how to look.
In the invitation of Advent to prepare for the birth of God into the world, we are invited to awaken to the sacred possibilities being birthed deep within us, to shake off our slumber, open our eyes wide, and discover the sacredness of everything we encounter. This requires that we are well rested, that our lives are rooted in balance so that our energy can be focused on this important task. Our work this season is to examine the ways we keep ourselves asleep or numb and to make sure we are rested enough to be alert to the holy moments.
I invite you to awaken right now -- begin by breathing in the beauty of this very moment. Pause for just a moment and allow your breath to bring you to the present until it opens before you in all of its expansive grace. Consider taking on a practice for Advent of cultivating presence, of saying no to something you find draining to create a holy pause in the day so you might discover the poem written in a grain of sand.
In your own life where have you fallen asleep? What are you awakening to? When you become present to this moment in time, what are the secret gifts you uncover hidden deep in your heart?
Reprinted with permission from the author's blog at Abbey of the Arts.
Christine Valters Paintner, Ph.D. is a Benedictine Oblate and the founder and director of Abbey of the Arts, a non-profit ministry integrating contemplative practice with the expressive arts. She teaches at Seattle University's School of Theology and Ministry and also works as a spiritual director, retreat facilitator, writer, and artist. She is the co-author of Lectio Divina: Contemplative Awakening and Awareness from Paulist Press. Visit her website www.AbbeyoftheArts.com.